As a Xennial mom who’s lucky if I get out to run once a week, I never thought I’d be able say something like this: A major lifestyle brand taught me how to skateboard.
Seriously. A Facebook friend shared the RSVP page for a free, women-and-girls-only skateboard clinic that Vans was hosting at an indoor skatepark the shoe company recently opened in Chicago. My body had its concerns but my mind likes to think that I’m not too old to learn new tricks, so I laced up my Sk8-Hi’s and signed up.
Instructors at the event taught women of various ages and skill levels everything from balancing on a board to dropping into a ramp. That afternoon, Vans not only brought together a group of women with similar interests and priorities but they expertly rallied this group around their brand.
As I nursed the numerous (and I do mean, numerous) bruises the day after, I realized that in addition to affirming that I’m probably past my skateboarding days the clinic also reminded me that the idea of the homogenous audience no longer exists.
Highly-segmented, persona-driven marketing is clearly the most effective means of creating relevance and brand affinity. And while investing in major experiential executions to reach a specific geographic/demographic audience may not be realistic for most brands, using social to find, understand and reach those same audiences is.
With its array of audience targeting capabilities and rich demographic data, social is the only scalable engine that can drive a segmented audience strategy. That’s why the way social is positioned internally is a direct reflection of your organization’s level of digital sophistication.
The social transformation
You know the history. When social was first introduced to the mainstream it was a place where Ashton Kutcher used 140 characters to tell fans what he had for lunch. But it wasn’t long before the major social platforms rapidly transformed from scrappy startups into publicly traded companies powered by big data and beholden to Wall Street.
Brands have struggled to keep pace with this shift. Unlike other traditional marketing functions, social’s astronomical rise to prominence and myriad business use cases has resulted in ambiguity about which teams are best positioned to “own” it:
Is social PR?
The case could be made for any one of these, because social is arguably the one marketing channel that has the capabilities and functionality to impact everything from product design to brand advocacy.
That’s because social is a cross-functional hybrid of of research and development, HR, corporate communications, content, PR, digital advertising and customer care. This lucidity and ability to affect so many parts of a business should be embraced as the platform’s primary strength, but so frequently it’s not.
Instead of placing social at the center and building outward to construct a consistent, transformative digital brand strategy, matrix organizations routinely silo social as a standalone team that is usually limited to one or two areas of marketing focus. That’s a miss, because social has the power to transform the way you approach and act on the most important decisions your business makes.
Beyond marketing: broadening the scope of social
You already know that the impact of social extends beyond your marketing department. So how do you take full advantage by shifting your organization to a social-first model?
Put your customer experience first
To successfully move social from the sidelines to the center of your business, you have to rethink and remap your customer journey. Highlight the recurring touchpoints where social can support and amplify purchasing decisions in an agile and cost-effective way.
Track the existing points along the path to purchase – from awareness all the way through retention – where your target audience is likely to interact with your brand on social. And be cognizant that this is different than identifying where your audience could interact with your brand.
Sure, there’s a chance a subset of your target persona identified YouTube as their number one source for educational content. But that doesn’t mean you need to invest in a series of highly-produced tutorials just to reach that limited audience. That isn’t a strategic or scalable approach. Instead, focus on your core audience’s experience.
Think outside the dialogue box
Thinking about how your audience uses social includes thinking about how you use social. From venture capitalists in the boardroom to interns in the mailroom–most of us are using social personally to cultivate relationships, find information or share what’s important to us. Making a concerted effort to use the skills you’ve developed as a social user will help you think differently as a social marketer.
Here’s a personal example: One of our sales guys was recently debating what color t-shirt to bring to his prospect as swag. One of our colleagues suggested that he look at the prospect’s public Instagram profile, where we found a post of him in full St. Patrick’s Day attire with the caption, “I love this day because green is my favorite color.” No joke. He loved the t-shirt.
So why not encourage your B2B sales team to use social as a search engine to learn about what makes a prospect tick when they’re not on the clock? Building a rapport over a shared love of perfect ski powder is a lot more effective than opening your email with a bland comment about the weather.
Social can’t become a critical, cross-functional practice until it becomes integral. Relationship building is just one of social’s many strengths outside of marketing, but it’s one that can amplify your efforts in everything from sales to recruiting.
“Always on” is the new norm
Your audience uses social consistently so if your current social strategy only consists of large and infrequent one-off campaigns, you may have some heavy lifting to do. Social cannot be seen as the nucleus of a matrix organization unless it’s demonstrated itself as a yearound driver of ROI.
That requires your brand to prioritize a proactive engagement strategy that is rooted in human to human interaction and dedicated to providing value.
Your audience’s use of Facebook doesn’t revolve around seasonal campaigns so why does your strategy?
Social is where your prospective and existing brand loyalists are most vocal. That’s why you need to be constantly and consistently listening, analyzing, refining and communicating your social learnings at a regular cadence.
Even at the most mature organizations, this isn’t possible unless your social team is positioned and empowered to work laterally across a wide range of stakeholders and business units.
One way to ensure this? Rethink your social team’s role.
Consider re-allocating your team’s time spent on the day-to-day (i.e. “always on”) social management. Reevaluate what your team focuses on and when. This will ensure your team is involved in the cross-functional ideation of large, integrated marketing campaigns.
This gives your brand the best of both worlds: Your social team has a seat at the table for creative campaign execution and you’re still maintaining a dedicated internal stakeholder that is responsible for engaging, listening and distributing social learnings across your company.
Digital follows on social
Many smart marketers have their eye trained on the ‘digital transformation,’ but the smartest marketers know that rethinking the way we approach social is the real opportunity to be truly transformative.
Not only is social paving the way for what’s next, it’s swiftly impacting consumer behavior and expectations across demographics.
Putting your audience experience first (and thinking like they do on social), maintaining a consistent presence and rethinking how social is prioritized cross-functionally within your organization will put you on the path from being social-savvy to being social-driven, from the inside out.