Taking Social Media to the Next Level

In-your-face marketing on Facebook just doesn't fly in Web 2.0. Here's how to give your business' social media efforts a subtler appeal.
September 14, 2012

While almost no major company utilized social media for marketing ten years ago, it’s now as indispensable as a decent coffee machine. Everyone is using social media, from the multinational global corporation to the half-baked Etsy startup. Yet for all the press and analysis social media receives it is still a relatively misunderstood tool.

Social Media 1.0: Advertising in Casual Wear

Plenty has been written about using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to spread the word about your company. Certainly, social media is great for quickly disseminating a message. And lots of consumers are on Twitter and Facebook, so naturally those are highly desirable places to disseminate that message. With each post or tweet, it’s get in, get the eyeballs, and get out.

But as social media evolves, we’re starting to find that the audience doesn't want to have a short, one-sided interaction social media. They want a dialogue. They want accessibility.

Social Media 2.0: Authentic Engagement

If you want a taste of what social media’s future is, look to the most powerful man in the world. President Obama recently visited social media website Reddit’s AMA platform to engage with the service's users directly. In case you’re not familiar, AMA is an area of the site in which visitors—celebrities, regular Joes, Leaders of the Free World—make themselves available to the userbase in an “ask me anything” free-for-all. The subjects then answer direct questions in real time. It’s been used by failed proprietors, successful entrepreneurs, innovators, and now, presidents of the United States.

What is unique about AMA, and this new kind of social media in general, is that it removes the veneer of marketing from marketing. For, make no mistake: Obama was selling something. His AMA was part of his re-election campaign. But he wasn’t overtly using social media to promote. He was directly engaging without directly selling. In fact, direct marketing on an AMA is usually frowned upon (as actor Woody Harrelson learned when his AMA was widely mocked because of his refusal to discuss anything but his upcoming movie).

Accessibility is the Message

Using social media as a dialogue as opposed to a hawking mechanism, on a basic level, makes you and your company more accessible to your customers. As counterintuitive as it seems, connections made in virtual space can make your company feel more real.

Most people’s engagement with a company ends at the advertisement. They’re presented a message on Twitter, they see it, they tune out. Even question-and-answer formats like a standard interview with a company spokesperson do not connect as well as social media can.

With social media as a no-frills back-and-forth, you can foster a sense of community by engaging directly with your fans’ questions and concerns. Simply put, a social media strategy focused on accessibility puts a human face on your business.

Upgrade to Social Media 2.0

Of course, not every entrepreneur can do their own AMA on Reddit. But the techniques that work for an AMA work elsewhere in social media.

  • Don’t aggressively hawk your product.
  • Respond to the most commonly asked questions honestly and directly.
  • Share authentic details about you, your business, your business practices, your products and your industry.

You can use your blog and your existing Twitter and Facebook profiles to become more accessible and foster that sense of community. Social Media 2.0 requires some vulnerability on your part, which is a risk. But isn’t business always a risk?

Jacob Harper co-founded the Vintage Vice clothing store and apparel brand in 2006 when he was 23. He sold Vintage Vice in 2009 and now works as a teacher and writer.