Stop Targeting Your Consumers

Have you noticed how the language of marketing often sounds like we are in the military? In our marketing and media plans, we use words like “target” and “campaign” – it sounds like the brand is the aggressor and that the marketer’s job is to attack the consumer. I have a mental picture of a shooter in an arcade or a fair, firing at targets and knocking them down as quickly as they pop up.

As digital marketing allows brands to converse with their customers in increasingly direct ways, it is time to change our language – because words matter. What you call something influences your behavior towards it. As brand marketers, we have always sought to create an emotional relationship between the brand and the consume. Digital tools allow us to create content that is more personalized than ever before, and it is time to change our language to words that reflect a relationship.

In our personal lives, we meet strangers, who then may become interesting acquaintances, and some of those acquaintances become friends. Some folks say that strangers are just friends that they haven’t yet met. We often meet new friends through introductions by current friends. Brand marketers seeking to create relationships between the brand and the consumer should use the same kinds of language, recognizing that there are real people at both ends of the marketing communications – not “targets”, but potential friends of the brand.

A blog post by Jon Holden put it well: “Getting to truly know the people you are marketing for, and finding unique ways to tell their stories and connect on a personal level will go a long way to establishing trust and loyalty”.

So, how does thinking about our customers as friends and potential friends change our marketing plans? Here are a few ways:

  • Rather than defining messages the brand wants to send, we develop messages that our friends will want to receive: something that will be useful in their daily life, something that will make them smile or stimulate a new idea.
  • Rather than creating content for strict demographic or behavioral targets for our messages, we create content for the people who have told us they already have a relationship with the brand by signing up for email, subscribing to an RSS feed, and/or becoming a friend on Facebook or following us on Twitter.
  • Instead of creating a TV spot or video that is designed to be watched many times in one or two channels, we create a video that is designed to be talked about, passed along, changed, spoofed.
  • Our brand messages to our friends are designed with the understanding that they have a very brief shelf life, and we need many more messages. A relationship isn’t built by sending one present to a friend on a special occasion; it is built by small interactions every day, over time (and still remembering the special occasion with something special.)

Instead of “targeting our consumers”, brands need to “talk to our friends” and “invite our acquaintances” – and by creating valuable content for both our friends and acquaintances, we earn the right to be introduced to others. This allows the brand message to spread organically – to more channels, in a more credible way, than would be possible for a brand operating in the “targeting” model.

Don’t be shy. Go ahead, say “hello”.

The Wisdom and Foolishness of Crowds

In his 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Suroweicki helped us understand how a diverse collection of information from independently thinking individuals can result in a more better or more accurate decisions and predictions than individual experts. That’s good news for a democracy!

With the rise of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, businesses and brands have sought to use social media listening platforms to learn more about their consumers and identify emerging trends and opportunities. But businesses need to exercise caution in thinking that the information they gain from these platforms is coming from a “wise crowd”.

In a thought-provoking article in the Wall Street Journal, Jonah Lehrer pointed to a recent study finding that the interconnectedness created by our social networks actually decreases the collective wisdom of the crowd. We are more frequently influenced by the expressed thoughts and opinions of others, and the real-time nature of social networks can create a powerful trend towards “group-think”. While our instinct would suggest that the access to a larger volume of information would make each of us smarter, the reality is that the volume forces us to put tighter filters on what we allow ourselves to read, see, and consider. Each of us is more likely to listen to a friend, or someone who shares our own opinions, and so be reinforced in our existing opinions,

So, while social listening platforms can provide excellent anecdotal information, we need to be careful that the “crowd” to which we are listening is “wise”. According to Surowiecki, three key criteria separate wise crowds from irrational ones: diversity of opinion, independence (people’s opinions aren’t determined by those around them) and decentralization. We may want to “tune” our listening platforms to assign relatively more importance to individual comments, and relatively less weight to the feedback. We need to be careful not be be swayed by sheer numbers and to trace sources: if thousands of tweets can all be traced back to a single information source, one can hardly argue that diversity, independence and decentralization are at play.

Does this mean that brands shouldn’t pay attention to “group think”? Not at all! A brand ignores the “group” at its peril: just ask United and the 11 million folks who have watched a video about their terrible baggage handling of one guitar! Or the 40 million folks who watched the Old Spice responses campaign in one week. The group “herd” mentality can help or hurt brands. We just need to be careful about how we seek to learn from the crowd.

Facebook and Branded Social Actions

Mark Zuckerburg has articulated the mission of Facebook thus: Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. The core of Facebook is that power to share. For marketers that seek to connect with Facebook’s over 800 million users, that means creating something worth sharing, and making sure they find it. In the guide for marketers, Facebook recommended that 20% of your budget goes to building an app and 80% on promoting it. While that may seem self-serving for Facebook, the fact is that it is the same principle that has always been the case with marketing messaging: whether creating a television ad, sponsoring a concert tour, or building a web site, content distribution has always formed a larger part of the promotional pie compared to the content creation.

Brands have to figure it out: in the US, Facebook accounts for 16% of total time online, and that percentage continues to increase at steep rate. The folks from 360i put it this way: marketers must become part of consumer’s personal stories in a shareable way.

The most important place for a brand to be within a consumer’s Facebook page, is in the Timeline. It’s also the most difficult place to be: the Timeline is controlled by the consumers, and represents what that person sees as the most important parts of their lives; those things that define them and that they want to share with others. One big change for brands: if a brand fan clicks “like” on a brand status update, this action will no longer show up in the fan’s news feed – the fan must take some action, such as “share” the content, before it will show up to their network.

Brands that provide something fun or useful will become part of the Timeline as they provide applications that cause a consumer to “do” something with their brand. The new emphasis on verbs: reading, watching, etc. will allow consumers to talk about real interactions with brands – IF the brand provides something that’s worth doing. 360i’s report calls these “branded social actions”.

With Facebook’s new Ticker functions, brands will want to learn more about when their consumers are using Facebook, and test to learn what timing and frequency of posts generates the most interaction.

As a brand rolls out a new application intended to generate these branded social actions, the distribution strategy will likely need include the purchase of media to be sure that enough folks see it to get the social ball rolling. The guidance to marketers distributed by Facebook places a lot of emphasis on the use of Sponsored Stories, and that’s no surprise. While it certainly drives revenue for Facebook, these Sponsored Stories units have proven to be successful in generating traffic to brand content – and the better the content, the more Sponsored Stories will be generated. It’s a logical step for marketers to include these units in their campaign plan. It will also be important to connect all other media placements to the Open Graph, so that every traffic driver your brand uses will generate a branded social action to bring more consumers to the great content you have created.

Don’t Neglect the Digital Marketing Basics

A recent report from Pew Research is a good reminder that brands should not forget the importance of email and search in consumer communications.


According to the study, 92% of internet users in the United States use search engines and send email. The number using social networking services? 65%.

  • 96% of those ages 18 through 29 use search engines.
  • 90% of those making under $30,000/year use search engines; that’s not substantially less than the 98% usage rate seen amongst those making $75,000/year and up.
  • 94% of internet users in the 18-29 category use email while 87% of those in the 65+ group use email.

All told, well over half of U.S. internet users (59%) use search engines on a daily basis, and an even higher percentage (61%) use email daily.

Social Marketing for Non-Profits – Part 2: Content

In Part 1 of Social Marketing for Non-Profits, I wrote about the first steps for using social marketing for a non-profit organization. One of the critical elements of those first steps is to develop the content that you will share with others, so let’s talk a bit more about how to develop content and what you will want to include, specifically for Facebook.

1. Create content. “Content” includes words, photos, videos, and links, created by you or created by others. On a Facebook page, the “content” is all the posts you create, plus the comments and posts that other people make to your page. The content of your page needs to reflect the objective you are seeking to accomplish, so that it will be more likely to resonate with the people to which you are already connected and the people you are hoping to add to the community. Remember: the goal is to give them content that they will want to respond to with a “like” or by sharing with others, to expand the reach of your message.

And don’t forget your “info” page in Facebook. Make sure folks have an easy way to contact you directly for more information. Include a link to your website if you have one.

2. Establish an editorial calendar. Think about the objectives you established in Part 1, and the content that you can develop that will help you achieve that objective. If your goal is to build community awareness about the activities of your organization, you will want to create photos, stories, and videos that show your organization in action. Interview volunteers. Interview the people who are being affected by the work you do. Edit everything you collect into bite-sized pieces, and create your editorial calendar. Think about your calendar as a story that you are going to tell in chapters. Use all the forms of status updates (Status, Photo, Link, Video, Poll Question) to tell your story in different ways.

3. Monitor. Schedule time every day to read comments to your posts, and to check any photo or video uploads that others have made to your page. If you see a negative comment, think twice before commenting on it or deleting it. Others on your page will often do the work for you of correcting errors or helping people see a different point of view. Being willing to hear ideas, even if they are negative or critical of the organization, helps you to establish trust with the friends of your organization. If a comment makes you angry, wait until you have had a little time to think about it before you write a response. But if someone posts offensive or lewd content, of course you will want to delete it, and consider blocking that person from your page.

4. Listen and Respond. As you read comments made by others, you will learn what interests them. Really listen – it will give you ideas about what they will be likely to share with others, and what tone of voice they are expecting from you. Re-post comments from others; publicly thank folks for sharing their comments and photos. Highlight a “friend of the week” (with their permission). Treat those who have “liked” your page as you treat your personal friends. Don’t talk like an “entity” – let your personality and passion show through your posts. Before you post, ask yourself if you would “like” or comment on the post yourself. If the answer is no, rewrite it.

As you build a library of content, you will able to use much of it over and over. Photos and videos can be gathered into albums; frequently asked questions can be gathered into one discussion page or a separate FAQ tab. So now you are ready: go tell your story!

Social Marketing for Non-Profits, Part 1: Getting Started

I admit it; I’m spoiled. I work for a corporation that has a budget for marketing our products. We never think we have enough money for what we want to accomplish, but then I go to a committee meeting for one of the non-profits with which I’m involved, and I realize how lucky I am. Many small non-profits have next-to-no staff, and very little room to spend money to promote themselves. I’m always talking about the power of social marketing; the importance of building a trust-based relationship and then empowering your customers spread the message. Nowhere is this more needed than in organizations that are trying to change the world on a shoestring budget. Most of them have great stories to tell. I’ve decided to put my time and money where my mouth is and help a few organizations develop their own social marketing strategies.

I’m sure I’m going to learn a lot in this process; in the hope that this could be of help to others, I am going to document the work as it progresses. In this “part 1”, I’m outlining the overall approach I’m going to take for each organization I plan to work with. One is an arts organization, the other is one of the ministries of my church. I will write this from the perspective of a volunteer, and hopefully some of this will also be helpful to marketing or development directors.

1. Establish a team. It’s the nature of non-profits that a lot of work must be accomplished by volunteers, so the first step is to find folks to help. Discuss the idea with the leader of the non-profit, and get an understanding of if/how staff can participate. Let the organization’s  board know what you are trying to accomplish, and ask that they help you identify people in, or connected to, the organization that have knowledge of marketing, web site and/or database technology, and communications. Include a notice in the organization’s newsletter, email updates, and other existing communication channels. Since everyone is a volunteer, it will be important to establish how much time each person has available to participate, and to organize the work accordingly. Identify who will post content, who will monitor and reply to comments and posts on the page.

2. Establish your objective for social media. Unless you know where you are going, you will never be figure out how to get there. Are you seeking to use social marketing to deepen the organization’s connection to those already involved as volunteers or staff? To build the number of supporters? To build connections between those who benefit from the goods or service provided by the organization? To increase awareness of the organization in the community? Each of these objectives are valid and each require different tactics. The team needs to pick the one that is most critical to the organization right now, and focus there. You can always tackle the others after you nail the first priority.

3. Identify key shareable content. Talk to those who are already connected with the organization and find our what they say to others (after all, one to one conversation is the 1.0 version of social networks). Don’t worry about starting small. According to a (somewhat self-serving) study by Ning, “It only takes 20 people to bring an online community to a significant level of activity and connectivity.” Focus on the content that you already know people are sharing with others; ask them what else they would like to know and give it to them. For example, if your objective is to increase the number of supporters/ donors, talk to existing donors and ask them why they give. Better yet, ask them to invite a few friends for coffee, and listen to how they talk about the organization to their friends. This will give you many ideas about how you should talk to prospective donors. Create a calendar of content so that everyone on the team know what will be posted and when.

4. Pick a platform to start with. You don’t have to do it all at once, so start with one thing. One of the the easiest places to start is by creating a blog on WordPress; your blog can provide the basic infomation about your organization and provide a consistent “landing page” to which you can point other communications. Or you could just create a page within a social network such as Facebook and Twitter (and with Google+ on the horizon).  YouTube might also be appropriate if you have lots of video content. Twitter is organized around interests, and having authority on a certain topic matters. If real-time information is important to your audience, Twitter is a place you will want to be. With Twitter, you will often need to link elsewhere, so you should only choose Twitter if you already have a web site or blog to which you can link. Facebook is centered on connecting with friends and family; because it is so widely adopted, it gives you a good chance of having your content shared with others. If the organization doesn’t already have a web site, you could consider starting a social community site from scratch using a partner such as Ning. There may be a niche social network that is closely related to the work of your non-profit or to your geographic area. The choice depends on your objectives. Gather at least a dozen stories, photos, videos to use as your initial content, and then:

5. Create your presence on the social network of your choice and say hell0 to the world. Contact existing supporters, staff and volunteers in whatever way you can  – by phone, mail , email, posters at gatherings, announcements at meetings. send an email letting everyone know of your presence and asking them to “like” or “follow” the organization. Ask them to post pictures, write stories, tell their friends.

6. Listen! Ask! Answer questions, respond to requests. Show them what the organization is doing to achieve its mission. Encourage the community to create the content themselves. Encourage them to invite others.

Non-profits are created by folks that are passionate about wanting to make something happen. Social Marketing is the perfect way to harness that passion and spread the word to others. If you are working in a non-profit, let me know about how you are using social channels to accomplish your mission!

Building A Facebook Fan Base

So you want to build your brand’s Facebook fan base? Before I get there, a few disclaimers: 1. Size doesn’t matter. It is more important to have a few very engaged fans than a thousand who “like” your page once and never return. 2. Size does matter. The more like-minded people you have in your fan base, the more likely they are to engage in conversation and develop a living, breathing community in the context of the brand. 3. Facebook doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Facebook publishing and advertising tactics are only part of what a brand should be doing to build connections with their consumers. I can’t express this any better than John Jantsch already did on his blog: Facebook is Not the House.

As John points out, Facebook can be a “front porch”, an effective place to begin a relationship with a consumer, a place where they can get to know the brand. So if you have decided to start inviting people to come over to your front porch for a glass of lemonade, here are a few pointers to maximize the number of RSVPs:

1. Target cost-efficient Facebook Marketplace ads to consumers most likely to like your brand. The most obvious group of these prospects is the friends of those who are already friends of your brand. Use key words that are directly related to your product, category, or usage occasion to increase your chances of delivering a relevant ad to the right person.

2. Concentrate on the simple “Page Like” ad format. A Video Like unit or a Poll unit gives the consumer something else to do, which is great if you want to drive engagement. But if you want to build your fan base, keep a single-minded focus in your ad formats, and stick to “Page Like” units.

3. Start your campaign using multiple variations of image, copy and title, and eliminate lower performing units as the campaign proceeds. High contrast, simple images tend to work the best, given the white background of Facebook pages. Keep the text short and witty.

4. Start your campaign by using multiple, narrowly defined targets. Monitor the results from each target, and eliminate those groups that don’t respond.

5. Support the Page Like ad units with Page Like and Page Post Sponsored Story units, targeted to friends of your existing fans. For more detail, have a look at my previous post about Sponsored Stories.

6. Not everyone will click on the “like” button in the ad; some will click on the title and land on your brand page. Make sure that the landing page gives them an idea of what to expect from your brand, and why should “like” your page. You could have them simply land on the your brand’s news feed. If that’s your choice, take time to think about the default setting for your page: would it be better for them to see just the brand status updates, or is seeing recent posts made by all your existing fans more compelling?  As an alternative, you could develop a custom landing page, to allow you more control about the “first impression” your brand makes. Think about which approach will help them decide whether they do indeed “like” your brand.

Building your fan base is a continual process; Facebook is so widely adopted that it’s unlikely that a single campaign will reach all the potential fans for your brand. Maintaining a steady rate of fan growth provides a solid base that can be leveraged to support campaigns focused on fan engagement and  deeper brand experiences online and offline.