There’s a divide among people who think businesses belong in social media or not. Some of it comes from the consumer side. (Brands don’t belong. Social networks are a private haven for individuals.) Some of this comes from the business side of the equation. (Why bother? Why take it seriously?)
Businesses can and should be active on social networks because they are the places where customers and prospects gather and spend a crapload of time: more time than any other online pursuit; more time than watching TV.
Social media channels are marketplaces. However, they’re not the marketplaces that we’ve grown up with. They may be closer to the market places of yesteryear.. before mass media.. when most transactions were paired with personal relationships. Social media makes personal relationships scalable again.
Consumers now have unprecedented information, competitive pricing, and have become ad-adverse and difficult to reach through traditional marketing channels. With the consumer now in control of the buying process, companies need to understand how they buy and not force the consumer to learn how you sell. Many consumers like to create alternatives, preferring to select from a list. In the insurance industry, we see the growth of aggregators and retail sales as evidence. To usurp this, financial services companies need to build trust and develop referral systems which tend to trump comparison buying.
Marketers need to be done thinking that customers make buying decisions in a vacuum. The insurance companies that I’ve worked with and for tend to look poorly on comparative shopping sites. They feel that a side-by-side comparison puts them at a disadvantage. If that’s the case, comparison shopping sites aren’t the problem. Transparency in pricing is important. So is tranparency is ‘value.’ Customers will pay more for something that has more value. In the insurance industry, that might be a an effective, ‘no hassle’ claims process.
You want to part of the buying process and that behavior has changed dramatically. Much is the buying process is influenced by user generated content especially among the millennials. This group rarely buys without seeking advice from their peers, which they have instant access to through social media on a Smartphone.
To tap into the referral network, you first need to influence somebody in that network. To create influence, you need to engage in conversation but that cannot be about products, you need to raise awareness and talk about their perceived concerns, to create a need. This demands the correct content in both tone and substance and not just one piece of content, this is a conversation and not fact sheet. This approach will involve risk, you must allow for disagreement and negative comments, you want to wait for consumers to defend you and not jump into to control.
One critical constituency of influencers are your customers, they have a valid opinion about your company and products and feel duty bound to express that opinion. As key influences, you must focus on the socially connected customer to make that influence positive rather than negative.
Social media is about changing the value proposition from price to making the right decision, which requires rebuilding trust. Zappos, Apple, and Amazon sell at a fair but never the cheapest price but most consumers trust their product work and service will be good, even if you have never been a customer.
Troy Janisch, Publisher of Social Meteor,is a digital marketing professional and social media enthusiast. Troy is Marketing Director at Sentry Insurance. Like a good social media program, SocialMeteor.com is all about content. Its not a consulting company or marketing agency.
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