social media platforms

Listen, don’t lead – make social media marketing work for your brand

Why your brand should be listening, not leading, on social media platforms

Using social media platforms was just one of many ways that people communicated with each other. Thanks to the pandemic, users are turning to social media as a way to replace day-to-day interactions. The number of users and the time they spend online has increased during the pandemic, with some studies reporting a jump of almost 10% from April 2019 to April 2020.

As social media takes on a different purpose in peoples’ lives, the way they use the platforms is changing. As one user puts it, “it feels so silly to share happy stories in a pandemic”, and 1 in 3 users consciously tries to avoid ‘tone deaf’ posts. There’s also less to post about, because people aren’t going on exotic holidays, meeting friends at the pub, or going to gigs. So how are they using social media platforms?

Social media platforms’ shifting role in the community

Tom Keiser, Hootsuite’s CEO, says that the role of social media has changed fundamentally during the pandemic. It’s more than just a fun way to share photos and status updates; it’s the primary way that people interact with their loved ones and the wider community. Because of this, users don’t just want to pull the spotlight onto themselves (and those who do are often pilloried online). They want to replace that lost sense of community by generating meaningful dialogue.

Brands can’t lead the conversation

When people are trying to generate a real, meaningful conversation online, brands have to be careful how they interact. Obvious selling does not go down well at all, and brands that are used to leading the conversation need to change how they communicate. Any brand that wants to make social media work for them needs to adjust to this new way of interacting online.

Keiser puts this into perspective with an analogy from physical retail: “When you walk into a store, the sales assistant doesn’t come up and tell you about all the products they’d like to sell you. They ask what you’re looking for, and that’s how brands have to think on social media.” Brands shouldn’t be looking at what they have and figuring out how to sell it; they should be looking at what people want, and how they can provide it.

Brands need to learn to listen

The beauty of social media is that your customers will tell you what they want – you just have to be listening. Brands should be looking not just at what their customers say to them directly, because few people will try and have a conversation with a brand. Instead, brands need to be looking at the way their audience interacts with each other, and drawing conclusions from this.

Firstly, understand what your audience is talking about. Clarins, a beauty and cosmetics brand, saw that as the pandemic set in, their audience shifted away from makeup and into self-care. Their audience wasn’t discussing their newest looks for going out; they were sharing tips for keeping well during another month inside. Their marketing team identified the change in dialogue, and began creating social media content around self-care and self-love.

Another route is to look at how your audience talks to each other. Yorkshire Tea is a great example of this, with social media content that’s playful yet safe, a perfect fit for its audience. It might sound effortless, but you can bet they looked hard at how their audience spoke to each other before settling on a tone of voice.

How to reach out to your audience

A brand that’s listening to its audience knows what it can offer them, and now it’s time to reach out. Remember, you aren’t just here to sell – you’re here to participate in a dialogue and contribute something useful to it. If it ever sounds like you’re pushing a product, all your hard work will be undone, so don’t just post links to your sales pages!

What can you offer your audience? A how-to guide on making the perfect brew? A new competition to ‘win your pet as a hat’? Just something to make them smile? You aren’t selling by any means, but you’re positioning your brand to be relevant, to be part of the conversation that your customers are having. This is essential for engaging new customers and retaining existing ones as part of the digital customer lifecycle.

Investing in your social media platform strategy

A brand that’s able to pivot quickly and follow the conversation will be successful on social media, and as we’ve seen, this is a hugely important sector for marketing. All too often this is left to relatively junior staff; Keiser talks about how his daughter has been made the ‘social media manager’ for the last 3 restaurants she’s worked at simply because she’s the youngest member of staff. Brands should take social media seriously – teams should have senior marketing staff onboard not only for their experience and insight, but for the ‘heft’ they have within the company.

When it’s done properly, social media is the ultimate tool for reaching and engaging your customers. Listen, don’t lead, and take the time to understand what you can do to help people – this is the foundation of a successful social media strategy.

If your brand could use a little social media power, contact us today to see how we can help you.