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How To Grow Your Business Using Social Media: Be Helpful – not ‘Interesting’

A recent Forbes.com article proudly laid down a challenge to the global business world:

Be Interesting – or Be Ignored“.

(image credit: Shirtoid, where you can put it on a tshirt)

The article claims that creating and sharing interesting content on your website, on your blog and with your social media audience is no longer an option.

They’re talking about the need for every company to implement content marketing, inbound marketing, influencer marketing – call it what you will.

I’m not saying they’re wrong, per se.

There are practical reasons you want your company to focus on producing high quality content and to adopt inbound marketing practices – because let’s face it, most people have learned to shop and research purchases online.

You gotta go where your customers are! On top of that, traditional direct marketing and cold calling are losing their effectiveness (although they do still work).

I would, however, like to throw cold water on the myth that “being interesting” is the objective of content marketing.

For more articles like this, check out our new Flipboard magazine, "Social Selling" For more articles like this, check out the new Flipboard magazine, “Social Selling”

‘Being Interesting’ Isn’t a Growth Strategy

In social media, there is a limit to how far “being interesting” will take most companies in terms of capturing qualified leads, generating revenues, improving reputation and streamlining customer service.

For example, consider the plight of the lowly radiator valve manufacturer:

(source: FedEx on YouTube)

A LOT of businesses fit into this category of “dull but critical”. Most technology industries fit into this camp.

Not Everyone Can Be The Life Of My Party

Dear Mr. Marketer:

In spite of your attempts to sway my TV-trained mind with your creative content, it is unlikely you’re gonna win my business just by being interesting or entertaining.

Even if you rely on my friends, your fans and your influencers to help spread your word.

Here’s why I’m gonna resist your charms:

  1. I don’t have time for you right now.  We are already highly selective consumers. We know we don’t have enough time to consume every interesting piece of content out there.  Your content has to be stellar and on every platform to get my attention.
  2. Competition for my attention is increasing every day. The amount of content being created and shared in social media is more than doubling every year, but the number of social media users is not. In other words, competition for my attention is increasing very quickly in social media. Can you afford to keep up?
  3. You lack the talent. Most businesses don’t have the skills available to constantly churn-out world-class entertaining content. A lot of what they publish is crap. This is why 52% of users stop following a brand.
  4. Your content doesn’t solve a problem for me. “Being interesting” doesn’t address the real reason I might buy something from you. I like a lot of people, but I don’t do business with most of them. I’d like you more if you offered me helpful information.


Your Buyer

If we play this ‘battle of the stars’ marketing strategy to its ultimate conclusion, then we will probably witness marketing stunts get stranger and stranger as more brands do whatever it takes to get noticed:


And even then, no one may notice your content in their social streams.

The facts seems to support my position.

It’s fairly well known that engagement rates on social networks are subpar. Most studies show that on average, fewer than 2% of your followers will ever see a given message you post. A recent GroupM Next report showed that fewer than 10% of your followers will EVER see an organic post from you.

It is important to note that these results are from people who already like and follow you online!  how many non-follower prospects can you hope to reach by marketing this way?

So can social media help you acquire new customers?  Yes, of course it can.

But to ramp your results up, you need to learn how to reach people who won’t follow your account long-term – just to be entertained.  And that’s most of your target market.

Alternative 1: Social Ads

Buying ads on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter is a scalable way to reach a lot of prospective customers in a short amount of time.

With products like Promoted Posts and Promoted Tweets, brands can now insert content directly into the streams of their target customers with pretty good precision.

Twitter even has a lead generation ad you can use to turn that content into email list.

But are they really interested in buying your product?

You need to ask this, because so far, social ads are pretty darn expensive and in general do not perform well in terms of engagement, sales or leads.

But to be fair, it’s early days with social ads.

Let’s just say the jury is out.

Alternative 2: Direct Marketing

Another emerging way to acquire customers in social media is to find and market directly to people who are expressing interest in and discussing the needs you can meet.

Not by advertising to them, but by reaching out and building a one-to-one relationship with a qualified prospect – using your existing sales skills and knowledge.

What we are talking about is direct marketing in social media – using indicators of intent as a trigger.

The indicators could be what a person says online (expressions), where they go (geo), what sites they visit (behavior) or what content they are most interested in (topics).

To acquire new customers in social media in this way, you will need to do four things well:

  1. Craft high-quality solution-oriented content (not infotainment) that meets your market’s personal and professional needs:  your content should address the basic needs that your organization and your products satisfy for real customers in the real world.  That said, if you can do this in an entertaining fashion, then go for it.
  2. Find potential customers who need your help.  You’ll need good data targeting and a mastery of social media keyword search engines to do this well.
  3. Share your content with prospects as close to their moment of need as possible.  Tools like HootSuite and TweetDeck were designed for this.
  4. Learn how to engage and talk to people who don’t (or won’t) follow your account.  Plenty of businesses market this way today. There are best practices all over the internet to help you learn. Check out our blog post, 10 Ways to Introduce Yourself to a Prospect, for a short list of proven tactics.

By marketing directly to people who may actually need your business, you’ll build brand equity with your audience for being helpful and capture new leads and sales in the process.  It will take time to generate results, however: people need time to get to know you.

If you are wondering whether we are recommending spamming people, we are not.

Sending links to people in order to answer their questions is a completely acceptable use of public social networks like Twitter, and it’s done by many people today.

In fact, many leading SEOs today say sharing content socially is fundamental to SEO.

It only gets spammy when you don’t take the time to understand & respect the person and the context of their comments, before you send that link.

So do that, please.

That said, not many brands are doing this type of personal direct marketing in a systemic way, mainly because monitoring streams for business opportunities takes too much time without the right filtering tools.

And that’s a pity, because many front-line personnel are perfectly equipped do this type of marketing (it’s a very natural behavior), if only they had the training.

This is the type of marketing that the whole company can do, together. And there are tools out there that can help you do it, today.

TAKEAWAY: Learn how to grow your business on Twitter in ways that are more relevant and helpful to your customers – than simply being interesting.

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