Social Media – if not now, when?

Are you sitting on the sidelines waiting for the opportune moment to dive into social media? Are you a nonprofit or small business who knows there is some ‘there’ out there but don’t know where to start?

Well, it looks like you better get off the sidelines and get into the game – pronto!

According to Jay Baer on his Convince & Convert blog you have about 18 months left before the competition in social media becomes so intense you will lose your leverage.

I love Jay’s blog. And this particular post raises some great points about the newness of social media marketing. He is absolutely spot on when he says that we are enamored with every new study that show’s the medium’s reach. We revel in the success stories and see the pot of gold that social media success can bring us.

I have maintained that social media is still the wild west when it comes to marketing and engagement. There is a lot of trial-and-error going on out there. The big brands have the financial ability to throw countless ideas against the social wall to see what sticks. And, they have the overall market awareness that allows their social media campaigns to take traction.

As Jay points out – sooner or later every nonprofit, shop and small business will have some presence in social media. One could argue that with platforms like Yelp and Foursquare – you already do (side note: have you claimed your venue yet? Have you seen what your customers and fans are saying about you? Just because you aren’t participating doesn’t mean you’re not part of the conversation.)

Jay talks about effectiveness. Isn’t that the goal of any marketing campaign on any platform? The difference here is that social media has different rules of engagement – unlike any we have ever seen in marketing. You cannot just jump in and talk about yourself. You have to make yourself worthy.

And that takes ideas.

Social media is a great opportunity to spread your uniqueness to existing and potential followers. Regardless of your enterprise – you have something to offer. Your followers and customers see value in what you do. At some level – they care about what you are.

Social media is the opportunity to turn that care into a deeper emotion. Call it ‘like’ or ‘follow’ or ‘share’ – these actions spawn from within. They are not actions you can force.

However, they are actions you can cultivate.

There are generally two reasons why a nonprofit or small business is not ‘doing’ social media (or not doing it well):

1) ROI – If you’re Ford and you’re spending upwards of seven figures on social media marketing – you damn well better see more car sales as a result. All the posts, comments and re-tweets in the world are meaningless if you can’t sell more Focuses (Foci?). Unfortunately, the marketing world sees everything they do in terms of ROI. I get that. If you drop $150,000 on a direct mail or radio campaign – there better be a measurable result.

Social media doesn’t work that way. It is not just another direct marketing platform. The number one reason people (you?) go on Facebook or check in on Foursquare is….fun! It is a diversion. It is an activity that you enjoy. You are not there to hear a sales pitch. You want to see and hear things that will interest you.

The better way to look at social media is ROE – return on engagement (I’d like to say I made this up, but I’ve been seeing it buzzing around the blogs and discussion groups for some time). Social media allows you to get closer to those who care about you. It gives you the opportunity to learn from your followers.

Social media is not a stand alone marketing platform. It is not a replacement for other forms of media engagement. It is simply another tool in your communications kit that can reap enormous long term rewards.

2) The other challenge facing the reluctant is – what am I going to say? As Jay points out, when everyone is making an offer or holding a contest – how can you stand out?

As Dr. Seuss so eloquently put it: “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Your nonprofit or small business has a million things that make you unique (ok, maybe not a million…but you catch my drift). The challenge you face is finding those moments of uniqueness and turning them into stories. Everyone likes stories. From 20 second cat videos on You Tube to compelling narratives on how your (insert service or product here) has made a difference in someone’s life. It is about people. It is about making connections. It is about humanizing what makes you you. It is up to you to find those stories and share them with your fans, customers and donors.

Is the clock ticking on social media? Yes. It moves at the speed of the Internet and new ideas succeed and fail every minute. The existing platforms continue to evolve and new platforms have yet to emerge. As smart phone penetration grows we will become even more socially connected.

The time to act is now. Jump in and start listening. Log in and start learning. The competition for ideas and attention will only get tougher.

The last thing you want to do is wake up where you are 18 months from now and find out that Jay was right.

Your thoughts?

Steve Allan

Social Media Specialist



About Steve Allan

I am a Social Media specialist uniquely focused on the management, messaging and marketing of social media platforms for non-profits and small businesses.
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