By Brian Massey published November 15, 2010

Two Social Media Styles: How to Choose the Right One for Your Business

We’ve all heard the message from the social media pulpit: social media marketing is about conversations and building one-to-one relationships. It’s about playing nice, being authentic, embracing transparency and doing so in a human voice.

For bare teeth marketers this all seems reasonable, but it’s the kind of language that sounds hard to quantify. How do we measure our return on transparency (ROT)?

Many social media gurus want to be so far removed from marketing and advertising that they have completely changed the vocabulary.

Gone are discussions of “impressions,” a decidedly one-to-many term. Instead we talk about “reach.”

To some, “reach” sounds like dialing the phone and then not saying anything.

“Conversion” is also a non-social term. In its place, social marketers use the more altruistic term “engagement.” We’re not converting people anymore; we’re just engaging them and letting them decide what to do.

What if someone really needs our product? Will we be too busy engaging them to tell them what we do? Won’t we have let them down?

There are two broad-but-distinct styles of social media marketing out there, and marketers can mix-and-match as they please.

Conversations build trust

A conversation-oriented social media strategy is about building relationships. It is the one-to-one style of online marketing that relies on the belief that we do business with people we like or respect.

Conversation-oriented social media is great for:

  • Image-building
  • Real-time customer support
  • Reputation management.

The impact of a well-executed conversation-oriented social media strategy can be huge, but success is measured in terms of conversations, connections and estimates of intent. For many, this is very unsatisfying.

Content makes social media measurable

A content-oriented social media strategy is about educating and informing. It is a style of online marketing that rides on the belief that we buy from people who teach us about the problems we’re trying to solve every day. It is knowledge and gratitude that drive people to buy from us.

Content-oriented social media is much more measurable for one very simple reason: content-oriented posts, updates and tweets contain a link to some kind of content.

Content has visitors, visits and pageviews. We don’t need to guess what someone’s “intent” is. Thanks to some simple analytics software, we know where readers come from, how long they stayed and how many pages they visited.

Plus, once they’re on our site, we can see if they take action.

It is this kind of “send-to-spend” measurement that makes this style appealing. Of course, all of this presupposes that we’ve put measurement strategies in place.

The content-oriented strategy in action

If there ever was a content-driven business, it is Eventbrite. Eventbrite provides the ticketing function for online and live events around the world. The events and their descriptions are the content.

The company invested in features that allow event planners and attendees to share events with their social networks. This is a classic content-oriented strategy. Every post, status update and tweet includes a link to an Eventbrite signup page. This signup page – what I call a social media landing page – asks the visitor to take action. In this case, the call to action is to buy a ticket or reserve a seat. Eventbrite takes a percentage of all ticket sales. The signup page and follow-up emails invite attendees to share the event with their social networks.

This month, the company did a study of its content-oriented social media strategy. They were able to estimate how much they would make every time someone shared an event:

  • On Facebook, Eventbrite made an estimated $2.52 every time someone shared an event with their social graph.
  • Email was only slightly behind Facebook. Eventbrite made $2.34 each time someone shared an event via email.
  • Twitter only generated $0.43 each time an event was tweeted or retweeted.

This makes sense given the rich way Facebook displays links, which usually include an image and full description. Read a summary of the study for more.

Choosing a mix for you

What mix is right for you?

While I believe you should pick the style that suits your organization, I think a content-oriented strategy makes the most sense for most businesses.

For a small business, conversation-oriented social media can quickly suck hours out of an already busy day.

Most businesses generate some level of content that can be repurposed and shared with their social networks. Customer case studies, product descriptions and customer support emails are all fodder for social media content.

For a more sustained effort, a kitchen and some talented chefs will be required. The best content-oriented strategies dish up quality content weekly.

Fortunately, the creation of digital content – from articles to videos – is getting easier every day. For example, the availability of video hosting sites and inexpensive cameras puts video content within the grasp of almost any organization. Blogs are a great way to create helpful articles without the editorial burden of formal reports and white papers.

If you have the employees and a corporate culture that lends itself to conversation-oriented strategy, you can expect to build larger social networks for your content. The relationships built with a conversation-oriented strategy will make your content more appealing. This dual strategy allows your community managers to build trust in the marketplace making it easier for your content to reel in the prospects.

The cultural issues related to a conversation-oriented strategy make it more difficult for many businesses to implement. Not only do you need employees that represent the company appropriately in the social spheres, you need an organization that can back them up, helping them solve problems. I believe that more businesses are ready to lead with content as they get their legs in social media.

Author: Brian Massey

Brian Massey calls himself a Conversion Scientist and he has the lab coat to prove it. “Conversion” is the process of converting Web traffic to leads and sales, and his practice, Conversion Sciences, brings these disciplines to businesses of all sizes. Brian is a dynamic speaker, presenting before corporations, universities, and at national conferences. He is the author of the The Conversion Scientist, and is a columnist for ClickZ.com and Search Engine Land. Follow me on Twitter @bmassey.

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