Imagine the following:
You’re walking along, having a conversation with one of your best friends about horses. She has things to say about horses, you have things to say about horses – it’s a good conversation and you’re enjoying it. Suddenly, someone you’ve never, ever met in your life abruptly thrusts themselves into your discussion saying, “Hey, since you’re interested in horses, you’ll want to buy this horse I have for sale right now!”
What is your response likely to be? I’d hazard a guess that for at least 99 out of 100 people, the response is NOT going to be, “Oh my goodness! What a wonderful opportunity! Here, take my money and give me that horse!” That’s not how horse buying generally works. (SPOILER: It’s not how effective social media marketing works either!)
The mere fact that you’re discussing horses isn’t a reliable indicator you want to own one: your conversation may have centered around horses as a motif in art, or horses on the race track, or even the fact that horses are a dinner entrée in some parts of the world – but none of that matters to your new conversationalist. They just want you to buy a horse from them now.
Think about how uncomfortable and annoyed you would be in this situation. Now let’s shift the setting of the conversation from a real-life stroll to a Twitter exchange. Would you feel any less violated or irritated to be interrupted by someone insisting there’s never been a better time to buy a horse?
It turns out that social media is surprisingly like real life.
People don’t like being interrupted or having their private conversations intruded upon. This is something we need to be mindful of as we conduct our digital marketing campaigns. Manners matter, no matter what communication channel you’re accessing. There’s a place for commercial speech in social media. If your messaging intrudes beyond those areas, you’re running a real risk of annoying and potentially forever alienating a prospective customer.
It’s important for you to understand the limits of the technology you’re using. A keyword search certainly enables you to identify all of the people who are discussing a certain topic on a given platform at any particular time. However, without a more advanced understanding of the conversations that are going on, it’s impossible to identify with any meaningful degree of accuracy the points where your marketing message would be warmly received. Our eager horse salesman is going to definitely be wasting his time if the marketing message to buy a horse is being directed at people discussing how much they hate all things equine. The fact you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.
Used strategically, social media has an incredible power to identify people who would be very receptive to our marketing message. But the process is not and cannot be fully automated. Data doesn’t equal insight, and an on-topic conversation doesn’t necessarily equal a sales opportunity. The brands that understand this, and keep a basic human understanding at the center of their digital messaging strategy, are the brands that do best in today’s competitive environment. Don’t leave the social out of your social media!