Recently, I have had a few people ask a similar question: Does having multiple social media sites consolidate or fracture the potential fan/follower/audience base?
The answer is simple: It is entirely up to you.
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RINGING THE BELL
Before social media got rolling and the blog-o-sphere ballooned, there really was only one place a brand wanted their audience to go online: their website. The old questions had to do with page design and whether or not a sub-brand or associated brand needed a separate website. Those were the simple times.
Then came the advent of everything from MySpace and Friendster to Facebook and Twitter. YouTube exploded and the anomaly of the viral video commanded the attention of big media. In just a few short years, the social media beast was unleashed. Along with the gravitational pull of mobile devices and several other media-tech factors, social media changed the ecology of the internet.
Now, the number of active and thriving social media destinations is experiencing a baby boomer growth. This year, Pinterest is the new big thing and Tumblr is the old thing with new life. The social networks are creating their own sub-categories and even professional networking sites like LinkedIn are drifting a little toward a more social experience. The snowball has gotten so big that this thing which was once deemed little more than a fad by traditional media now has magazines, television shows, and even an Oscar-nominated film devoted solely to its existence.
“The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.”
— Ambassador Kosh, Babylon 5
As Google+ fights for dominance against the giants of Facebook and Twitter, hundreds — if not thousands — of smaller destinations vie for recognition from the billions of people online. The proliferation of social media and the ebb and flow of popularity within occur at such a rapid pace these days that keeping track of the landscape is tantamount to watching the stock market.
FEAR IS THE MIND-KILLER
So what does this all mean for your brand, be it as an entertainment personality or as a corporation?
Well, heck if I know. While many purport there are best practices which cover the gamut of social media interaction, I think that’s largely a pile of hooey — and later I’ll impart upon you my pile of hooey. By the time anyone conducts a broad study of destinations, users, platforms, and interactions, that study will be out-of-date. In the first of my computer classes in college, the teacher stated: “The computer programs you’re about to learn in your entire curriculum will be obsolete when you graduate.” And that was in reference to illustration and animation software circa 1992, when CD-ROMs were supposedly the wave of the future. We were already flying at a rapid pace twenty years ago. Now we’re approaching supersonic speed.
While abiding by the syllabus enforced by the college and appeasing the guidelines imposed by the Ministry of Education, what that teacher did for the rest of the year was essentially run a class on computer and applications theory. We were tested on what the education overlords demanded but all along the way we also learned to understand the concept behind the progression of consumer-level computer technology. One of the biggest lessons was: the second you declare yourself an expert and stop learning, you’re dead in the water.
Never was this theory more true in practice than it is with social media. So, as I often repeat: there is no such thing as a social media expert, or guru, or master. In fact, the very shapers of social media, the Zuckerbergs of the world, have entire staffs devoted to keeping them within the trend wave. And even they fall behind or commit blunders. I’m lookin’ at you, Google. Why is this important? It is important because you, as a brand owner (or even as the brand itself), need to stop worrying about social media and learn to love the uncertainty. If even the big boys can stumble (and the jury is still out on Facebook Timeline) and small ideas can strike gold (hello, Pinterest!), then don’t be afraid of social media.
THE WARREN SAPP AXIOM
Here’s the thing: most people who come to me about social media come from one of two starting perspectives:
- Social media is a treacherous labyrinth to be navigated or even a mountain which requires a Sherpa guide to scale. Thus they tremble inside with fear and worry. There is much hand-wringing and perhaps some nervous pacing back and forth.
- Social media is a load of trendy, hipster bunk. Thus they have crossed their arms, set their jaws firm, and dare me to prove them wrong.
Only one person has ever had the attitude that there’s something to it and were willing to admit they knew nothing. However, that made for the best student as they were eager and thrilled to learn first through theory and then by practice. Now, they’ve grown beyond me, seek out their own sources of information, and are developing their own methodology. (Kudos to you, Tora Tora Tora!)
And that is the key.
Social media is a fickle entity which is comprised of a thousand shifting tiles to form a mosaic which changes slightly each time you blink. Does that scare you? It shouldn’t. It shouldn’t scare you because you have to power to stake out a section of that mosaic and shift the tiles to your liking. Social media isn’t a labyrinthine death trap or a mountainous obstacle. It’s a canvas. And whatever image you want people to see is, by and large, what they will see.
Like a painter, there are techniques to learn and there is experience to gain, but you’re in control. And as that painter, you decide on the size of the canvas and the colours to use. Every tweet, every post, every like, every +1, every reblog, etc, is a stroke of your brush. It’s that easy. Just remember that people will see only the art and not the artist. Their impression of the artist will be formed from what they see in the art. As social media warrior Warren Sapp (yes, the former pro football player) once said, “Every time you hit the send button, you’re issuing a press release.”
Now, we can get sophisticated with marketing adages and branding truisms, and we can get technical with platform limitations and demographics and yadda yadda but this isn’t a social media How-To Guide. Like that computer course teacher in 1992, I’m trying to show you the theory and illustrate the concepts before I get back to answering the question: Does having many social media sites consolidate or fracture the potential fan/follower/audience base?
As stated at the top of the article: It is entirely up to you. However, that is a deceptively multilayered answer.
THE PROVERBIAL ONION
It’s up to you how much time you want to invest in it, what your brand already is, and what you want your brand to be. It also depends on what your fan/audience/customer base already is — and again, what you want it to be. And it depends on how you intend to conduct your brand’s life on social media. There is no blanket answer for everyone. Each person or brand’s answer is wholly dependent on the person or brand in question. Social media is simply a tool. It has no purpose until you pick it up and use it. Then it may be a surgical knife or a sledgehammer or a microphone or a microscope or any number of implements.
If you want your audience to end up at one destination, then maybe it’s best to just set up shop there. But let’s go back to the old theories of commercial marketing. You can open the best shop in the world and hope that curious passersby will be your first customers and they will spread word of your fabulous wares to more and more people and thus your business will grow. How often does that work out? I can think of maybe ten businesses in my city which have enjoyed a healthy life from simply word-of-mouth. And that covers about 25 years of living in this city. Moreover, very few of those businesses have ever grown beyond that one store. Maybe that’s okay with them but is it okay with you?
In the old world of traditional media, if you didn’t want to rely on word-of-mouth, you had to pay for pretty much everything else: television commercials, print advertisement, billboards, product placement, etc. This is where social media differs from traditional media and, generally, even from the rest of the internet. The vast majority of social media sites require absolutely no cost to get a profile or page whether you bake cookies in your home kitchen or you are a multinational corporation. So, aside from creating the content itself, you don’t have to spend one penny to get real estate in the social media landscape.
You can blanket the social media world with your message and you can do it for free. So, how do you know what to do? Well, for me, it boils down to what you (a) are able to do and (b) want to do. You need to know your capabilities and identify your goals.
To figure those out, you need to ask yourself the right questions.
THE DIANA ROSS AXIOM
Should you stake claims in the top tier of social media destinations? Probably. Where do you want your audience to ultimately end up? Is that just one place (because you only have the time and resources to maintain a presence in one place)? Or several places? Where does your target audience already spend most of their time? Obviously, finding that out will help maximize your reach. What do you have to offer as an online experience and where would be the best place(s) for it? Or, as Diana Ross once sang, “Do you know where you’re going to?”
(Sorry Mariah, you’re no Diana Ross. KTHXBYE!)
Even if your content doesn’t really fit on an expressly social media destination, remember that other sites usually have a social media element to it — such as YouTube. YouTube isn’t, in the purest sense, a very community-driven site, in my opinion (and Google’s opinion, ergo: Google+). The primary purpose of YouTube is to upload, search for, and watch video content. The social angle is very specifically related to this primary function but, even though YouTube plays heavily into the social media landscape, there isn’t much in the way of sustained conversation aside from the ongoing flame wars in the comments sections. The social part of social media is better exemplified by the Facebooks and Twitters of the world. IMDb isn’t a social media site but they have begun to forge a closer relationship to social media. Sure, you want your short film listed there but if you’re presenting it online, is that the only place you’ll upload it?
You need to go down the line and figure out all of these goals and see how they apply on a case-by-case basis. Then you need to understand how your brand management will coordinate with your social media efforts. Do you have the budget to hire a social media manager or are you just going to ask your niece to do it? Do you have a social media-savvy press agent or will you be doing it all yourself in between filming days? What are you going to do with a Twitter account for your hardware store? The specific questions can and should go on ad nauseum. The key word in that sentence being: should. Because the second you stop asking those questions, the moment you decide you know all you need to know about social media, you become dead in the water.
IT WILL ALWAYS BE TRUE UNTIL IT ISN’T
Here’s the pile of hooey part. Despite my warning to seek circumstantial solutions, it is still true that most brands can govern their social media strategy by a few best practices — just know that these best practices are true today. Tomorrow, things could become topsy turvy.
- Go Where The Action Is: Choose your home base(s). For most brands, it is wise to have a strong presence on 2-5 major sites. It all depends on your brand. Facebook and Twitter are the rulers of the day, but there’s also LinkedIn for professional reasons, YouTube for content or video advertising (and an easy in to Google+), and then perhaps one more which is specific to your industry (SoundCloud, Vimeo, etc.).
- Follow The Yellow Brick Road: Once you figure out your primary battlefield and pick the sites on which you intend to be active, you can also establish beachheads on more sites. Those beachheads should serve as signposts in the very least, or even as small brochures. Most social media sites allow for linking in the profile or info sections, if not more flexibility. So, maybe Google+ isn’t a major destination for you but you can still create a profile, include some information and other content, and emphasize your brand’s Facebook page.
- Build An Echo Chamber: As well, most social media sites have some interplay allowed with other sites. For instance, Twitter may not be a major platform for you but you can link your WordPress blog with it so that new posts are announced on Twitter. These announcements include a link to your blog and so folks who initially follow you on Twitter will eventually end up on your blog. Again, make sure your vital information and brand is clearly displayed on these ‘feed’ sites.
- Don’t Cross The Streams: In regard to the above, be careful what you plug into what. No need to duplicate messages and get spammy. If you’re uploading YouTube videos and posting them to Facebook, you only need to link one to Twitter, not both.
- Kiss The Babies and Listen To The People: Finally, remember that social media is an active medium. If all you’re doing is creating 20 feed sites to serve as signposts to your actual website (and there’s nothing inherently wrong with this if it fits into your strategy), then understand that the majority of visitors will be one-timers. It is generally true that to get the best out of your prime social media locations, you need to be active in either content presentation or conversation with your audience. Better than doing one of those is to do both. The social part of social media means establishing a qualitative and rewarding level of engagement with your audience. As is true of most social experiences, the best way to engage people is not to just talk at them but to talk with them. And this means you need to show that you are listening. Therein lies the art of the medium.
(I’ll explain that last bit some other time.)
So, does being all over the place fracture your audience? Not if you don’t let it. Your audience will choose their hangouts (I don’t think Google has trademarked that word — yet). That fact won’t change anytime soon. You can’t force the audience into one convenient, target-rich location for our benefit and, moreover, you shouldn’t. You can, however, encourage them and maximize the potential for having them gather en masse in a few key locations. With applications like Flipboard out there, they may just create a profile for the expressed purposes of following you on Facebook, even though they have no other use for that particular social media site. If they feel strongly enough, they will tune into whatever channel you broadcast on. This is especially true of sports and entertainment brands, properties, or celebrities. Maybe not so much for personal hygiene products.
Either way, if you’re careful about choosing your active locations, your passive ones, your signposts, and pick at least one site where your brand’s content and interaction occurs at a pleasant rate, then social media can maximize your online engagement and brand loyalty and all that marketing gobbledygook.
In plain language, people will find you if you help them to find you and give them something they want to find. It doesn’t matter if it’s on Pinterest or Google+ or Facebook or even the mildly resurgent MySpace. And if tomorrow we see ChittyChattyBangBang become the next big thing, then pop on and put a signpost there, too. So long as you are not committing any normal transgression of PR or being a spambot, then it can’t hurt to stay with the trend.
What can hurt, though, is if you have 10 or 10,000 fans or followers or customers who only use Twitter and never see a Tweet about your latest movie, newest sale, most recent travels, or brand new location. By and large, your audience is already fractured because each individual has their preferred place of activity. It is your job to consolidate them not by moving them but by ensuring the same message — your message — reaches them no matter where they are.
Sitting around and waiting for a magic wisp or a Sherpa to be a guide won’t get your brand anywhere in social media. And even some of your most devoted brand loyalists are, like most of us, relatively lazy. In this way, a part of your audience — your potential audience — is sitting at the base of the social media mountain they perceive, unsure of where to go to find the things that they already like. Will they ever find their way to where they can see, hear, read, or experience what your brand has to offer? Will they ever become engaged by your content? As I’ve said before, while multilayered, the answer is ultimately still simple:
It is entirely up to you.
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[ Angelo Barovier has been a marketing professional for 25 years, if you consider his first job was in the Sales Department of Canada’s Wonderland. Of course, he was merely a games attendant (and the Games Department was under the Sales Department, so really he didn’t work IN the Sales Department) but he sure was a money-maker when he ran Smurf Water Rescue.
He has been published several times on this blog which, coincidentally, he runs. So, technically, it’s not nepotism. He currently works for Studio Diversity and Replay Entertainment. He has also been the recipient of numerous awards from the International Society of Angelo Barovier Impressionists. You can Follow Angelo on Twitter @Rancorr or Like him on Facebook facebook.com/Angelo.Barovier.Public unless you don’t believe that Han shot first. Actually, he’s pretty much all over social media because, y’know: total nerd.
If you have questions, comments, personal insults, or a really, really good recipe for Macadamia nut cookies, then please utilize the section below.]