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Evolution: Google Era to the Social Era and now to the Community Era

Author: Steve Raack, CEO [ n e w k l e u s ] 

Early in my career I spent a lot of time delivering project management training and mentoring. The focus was on planning, communication, mitigating risks, etc. All critical activities to help execute successful projects. During that time, we had a phrase we repeated a lot, "Hope is not a method for success."

  • Hoping you stay on budget, on time or within scope
  • Hoping a major risk doesn't blow up your project
  • Hoping...(fill in the blank)

For the past several years, too many companies are hoping their social media posts will drive engagement and sales. Followers and likes have increased, but not sales. This has led to hoping the boss doesn't require real ROI results!

Hope is not a method for success!

So what's going on and why is social engagement to sales so tough? Google the following phrase (or click on the link): decline of social media engagement

Ugh, ugh, ugh!!!

Many of you have been experiencing this decline for years.  It’s not just happening in one industry, and it's not just happening to you. The impacts are widespread.

We can talk about the many reasons that may be impacting everyone’s engagement, but it comes down to three main things:

1) Content saturation.  From selfies to political rants to people sitting during the National Anthem to fake muggings in Rio to airport check-ins to pictures of food, etc. Your business posts are competing with all the other “stuff” going on in the world. People’s social feeds are literally overflowing, and the brutal fact is, most of us on social media are there to connect with friends and family, not to shop your brand. 

In an effort to weed through the abundance of content, algorithms were created to help curate what you see. Unfortunately, the algorithms have definitely hurt engagement and reach.

Google the following phrase (or click on the link): social media content saturation

2) Pay-to-Play. Over the years and with our blind willingness to participate, the major social platforms have acquired tons of data on all of us.  Enough data and enough power to require you to pay for boosting posts and placing ads. You must pay-to-play to have any hope that your followers will see your content. And unfortunately, even when you pay, the engagement numbers are still very low.

Google the following phrase (or click on the link): social media pay to play

3) Social platforms were not created for business building.  They were not strategically designed with brands in mind. The big platforms were built for friends and family to share updates, pictures, messages, news, etc. Businesses have adapted to the different platform’s features over the years and continue to chase their fans from platform to platform.  

Like everything, innovation, demand and evolution are in play. Change is happening at a faster and faster pace. Regardless however, businesses must still find ways to complete the acquisition to sales process.

THE GOOGLE ERA

In the Google era, we talked about acquisition constantly. We used Google to connect with potential customers to bring them into our brand funnel. Google was where the masses lived online. We all played in the world of Google ads, search engine optimization, etc. We used fairly efficient tools and strategies to acquire customers and drive them to our blogs and websites. 

THE SOCIAL ERA

In the social era, we talk about content, likes, follows, influencers, engagement, etc. Platforms arose around micro-blogging, status updating, picture sharing, live streaming, and messaging. The masses scattered from Google to many platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Reddit, Periscope, etc. 

This era brought with it constantly changing dynamics, new user behaviors, algorithms and selfies. Tens of millions of worthless selfies that fill up our feeds every day. 

Personas also evolved.  People use Facebook as one persona with their family, community clubs and schools. They use a completely different persona on Snapchat and may even have a few Finstagram accounts sprinkled in along the way too.

By the way, using an informal poll of marketing executives, we found that most believe that 95% or more of those alternate personas are not looking to engage with brands on social platforms.

IMPACT ON BRANDS

In the Google era, it was all about acquiring leads to convert into sales.  The acquisition to sale process was fairly predictable and straightforward: Google -> Potential Customer -> Brand -> Sale. Generating volume of acquisition activity was costly at times, but important for growth.

In the social era, it’s about BIG DATA.  The social platforms control the data and therefore they control the connections to customers. And many of today’s social platforms have all encompassing user strategy.  This strategy puts strain on the acquisition to sale process.

In the social era, the acquisition to sale process is now Social Platform -> Potential Customer -> Social Platform -> Brand -> Sale. That extra Social Platform step brings with it many conversion challenges and is not usually in strategic alignment with the brands. The Social Platform’s desire is to have 100% of this process take place inside their platform.  The brand’s desire is to have transactions happen on their website where they can offer customers a full brand experience.

And then there's Amazon. In case declining social engagement wasn't enough in the social era, the Amazon engine poses additional challenges. Understand, Amazon can probably beat you on price, share of wallet and logistics. But they can't compete with you on brand experience and company culture.

So let’s revisit. Social engagement is declining, social costs are rising, brand experience is being marginalized, Amazon is causing heartburn and ROI is non-existent.

It’s time to pivot.

ENTER THE COMMUNITY ERA

The smartest brands are turning every customer touch point into something that strengthens the relationship. These brands want to know who their customers are and engage with them directly. Brands are the magic, not the platforms.

It’s about building long-term relationships and interactive communities around brands, events and topics of interest. It’s also about leveraging exclusive experiences.

Interact with your fans and customers directly.  Keep them engaged with purposeful strategies. Provide your most loyal fans and customers with exclusive experiences and let them capture those experiences on video – user generated video.

Bring your loyal fans inside your brand. Get to know them better. Take CRM to a deeper level with more personalization.

In doing that, you maintain a direct customer relationship AND you obtain incredible amounts of valuable, authentic user generated videos.

And if those exclusive experiences are truly amazing, those user generated videos will be shared on social platforms for everyone to see. Friends and family members will authentically learn about your brand and want to engage as well.

Consider social platforms as the new Google. Use them for customer acquisition. Leverage your fan base to tell authentic brand stories, welcome new customers into your community and build long-term, loyal relationships at every touch point. Your community embodies your brand and is designed strategically for customer engagement and retention.

Take purposeful action to foster your own brand community and stop hoping it happens as a result of posting content on social platforms.