Fact: Everyone selling something wants customers.
The corollary to that is we're all selling something. Right here, right now - I'm trying to sell you on my savoir-faire. On my writing, my business acumen, my social-business jen ne sais quoi.
On my amazing grasp of the French language.
When you're selling something, what is the most important thing to have? A great product? An impeccable reputation? A good-looking sales force?
Surely the most important thing to have is customers, right? RIGHT?
Way better than customers are brand-fans. A customer will buy something from you and use it, but a brand-fan will become an extension of your sales force. Even better - a horde of brand-fans becomes a groundswell of Crowd Marketing. I'm writing about what, in essence, Malcolm Gladwell meant when he talked about The Tipping Point.
Companies are trying to figure out how to create that groundswell and find that tipping-point. I'm afraid you won't find the secret formula here, even if you read to the bottom, mostly because there isn't one secret formula. There are, however, some overarching concepts that seem to hold true for those brands that have achieved this highly-sought-after phenomena.
Often, the brands that reach this nirvana weren't primarily trying to make money - they were trying to provide something they truly believed in. They come across as genuine and 3-dimensional. In other words, they aren't used-car-salesmen with overstated promises and an in-your-face sales style to the point where you avoid them like the plague. They care about you, their customer. Even if they don't care about you as one individual customer, you see evidence they have shown care for other individual customers, which makes you think they probably would care about you if they had the chance to interact with you about something.
Here's what many brands don't get about social business: it's not about overt selling on Twitter or any of the social media platforms. It's about building your reputation in those places; winning individuals to become brand-fans. Customers and potential customers get to experience brands out there and see who they are, how they act.
And if they win us over? Watch out.
Because social business isn't about Brand A selling to Customer B by tweeting a 15% off promo code. Social business is about Brand A winning the heart of Customer B so that Customer B goes to Facebook and tells his 400+ friends "You have GOT to try this niche beer made by the local microbrewery! They are such a cool company and their beer is awesome!"
Let me tell you a story... I participated on a message board in 2001 on a community site called ePregnancy (that no longer exists). It was a community for expectant mothers, allowing us to band together and compare our pregnancy aches and pains, ask questions, share hopes and dreams. The forum I participated on was called Due In January and starting around the end of December, we all produced tiny humans - a few of us got more than one - and we moved, together, to the next stage in our journey.
Shortly after that, a couple dozen of us managed to assembled in one city and meet each other in person. The other 100+ members of the forum followed virtually on the message board while we shared photos and stores and wished they could have made it. Here's what it looked like:
Those babies are all turning 12 this month and we're plotting to get together again and recreate this photo with a bunch of surly pre-teens. We'll let you know how that goes.
Us moms are still together in a private virtual community and still comparing our aches and pains and hopes and dreams. There is a reason I am telling you this and it ties into social business and social selling. Hundreds of times over the past 12 years, I've seen the dynamic play out where one of the women comes into the community with a glowing endorsement for something, and each time, a subset of the community gets inspired and runs out to buy that thing. When these January 2002 children were babies, one mom bought the Fisher Price Ball Blast toy and reported back how great it was and how much her little punkin-schnookums loved it and next thing you knew, there was a stampede of mothers who were desperate for ways to occupy their little punkin-sscnookumses and willing to try anything who ran out to buy it.
We had a small army of little human beings learning to blast plastic balls all over the place and some of us (perhaps only 1, ahem) eventually regretted chasing those stupid little plastic balls everywhere.
But I digress.
There have been many stampedes like this over the dozen years we've been together. Anything from make-up to books to gadgets to toys to kitchen appliances to apps. I have been a follower of some of these endorsements, and I have been an endorser more than once. Brand-fandom takes a happy customer to the next level - to become an endorser. I don't mean a person who writes a recommendation on Amazon, although that's a good thing for brands to have too, but someone who stands in front of a crowd of people he or she knows personally and puts his or her stamp of approval on a product or service. The more third-party-endorsers (TPEs - it's a thing, for real - GOOGLE IT!) a brand gets, the better its product does.
I'm no marketing person. I don't have Social Media in my title. I've never worked doing PR. But I know this much is true: the goal for any business is to convert customers too brand-fans, or it should be. The methods? Quit trying to sell so hard and instead try to build your reputation. Engage. Earn trust. Answer questions. Solve problems. Make people laugh. You cannot buy these fans, they must be earned. There are no short-cuts. Engage authentically. Care about your customers and their problems. Laugh at their jokes. 'Like' their endorsements of your products. Get social, bi-directionally. Don't just push your sales-blitz-promos out to them and wonder why it's not effective.
I don't follow many brands, but one exception is Mr. Clean because he makes me laugh and he never does a hard-sell on me.
You can bet there is a part of my brain that has a feel-good response to Mr. Clean and when I walk down the cleaning aisle at the supermarket, the fact that he's given me occasional smiles with his humor mean his products have an advantage in my decision-making process. Therefore, I know that brands that are funny without doing a hard-sell are effective on winning me as a customer and potentially brand-fan.
I also know that brands that interact with me garner my goodwill. A handful of times on Twitter, brands like Red Lobster and SlimJims have responded to my tweets that mention them. I didn't @mention them or tag them in the post, I merely mentioned their products in silly tweets and they replied in an upbeat, friendly, and engaging way.
I won't lie - it was a little bit of a buzz for me.
When brands interact with me in a positive way - without trying to commoditize me as a customer - it creates an infusion of good feelings. I like them better than I did before. Hey, they noticed me, they talked to me. ME, little me! Wow. Imagine more and more of that.
The truth is that I am already a brand-fan for Red Lobster. I plan to be buried in a casket filled with Cheddar-Bay Biscuits. I have taken a lot of grief for it over the years, but I sing my endorsement of their delicious biscuits from the rooftops. I'm not ready to be buried in a casket full of Slim Jims yet, but I do feel fond of them and who knows what the future holds. Watch this space. Or the obituaries, maybe.
My most recent encounter is my favorite one yet. Just last month, I made a joke on Twitter where I tagged two brands. I never expected a response to the joke but one of the two brands did respond and this little teeny-tiny interaction totally made my day. I love them for it. I installed their app on my phone. As such, I'm more likely to share their content on my social networks. They won a little piece of my heart is what I'm telling you (even though they didn't think my comedic genius was worth some Mountain Dew and Cheetos, which I vehemently disagree with!).
Let's stop for a moment and reflect back on Malcolm Gladwell, shall we? His book is subtitled How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Companies all over are trying to force content to go viral. They develop great content and have armies of people who pimp it out and, often, it falls flat. What if Cheetos or Mountain Dew had jumped into this social-conversation with me and the Cheezburger brand? What if it kept going? What if it got more hilarious? What if....
Come out to play with your customers. Build your reputations. Build goodwill and trust. Build an army of super-fans who love you because you made them feel good, because you care and are passionate about your products and services. They will sing of their love from the rooftops and, hey, if something goes viral? Great! If not, you still did the right thing.
You still did the right thing.
Me? I'm selling you my words. More accurately, I'm giving my words away in order to sell myself. Is that even legal? I'm just trying to save up enough to fill my casket with Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits.
Your move, Slim Jim.