When you look at the numbers behind social media, it’s hard not to be swept up in the excitement.
700 million users on Facebook!
200 million on Twitter!
25 million on Google Plus in the first month!
The numbers are staggering and on the surface appear to be a compelling reason to get on board. After all, with stats like that who wouldn’t want a piece of the action? But while I believe without a doubt that every business needs to be engaging in the social web if not now then definitely within the next 2 years, they must learn to change their approach.
As marketers, the numbers that have been drummed into us as important by mainstream media are all about impressions and reach, which is what makes the size of Facebook and Twitter so appealing. But don’t be seduced by them.
You will never, ever reach 700 million people even if you are a major brand like Coca-Cola. Social media platforms are not so much a single network as they are a collection of linked micro-networks (or nicheworks) with a shared architecture, each one brought together around different areas of interest. It doesn’t matter if a community lives on Facebook or a specialist platform for Nigerian beekeepers living in Holland, the size of the network isn’t what holds it together, it’s the strength of the connections within that community.
Hold me, thrill me
To (poorly) paraphrase Seth Godin in “We Are All Weird“, we are at the end of the age of mass, where brands can no longer hope to be all things to all people. For communicators, this means speaking to people (after all that’s what we want: conversations) as individuals, not a target market. The question becomes not how many eyeballs can we reach, but how valued a member of the community can we become (or in the case of a Facebook, how valuable the interactions we facilitate on our page). Granted, some brand can be very successful not engaging in unique conversations because they have scale (see: Coca-Cola and their 36 million Facebook followers) but for the majority who don’t have access to that kind of audience simply broadcasting will have little impact.
The secret sauce (or at least one of) to social media engagement is not to be all things to all people (that’s mass), but becoming something great to a few: your most passionate, loyal and engaged customers, and empower them to advocate on your behalf. Not to say that you should ignore the rest, but with the fragmentation and abundance of competing messages, it’s an uphill battle to win the attention of someone who may not be so hot on you. Better then to put your energy towards doing something that genuinely thrills and excites the few who do care about your brand.