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The Social Experience: The Foundation for Strategic Social Media Marketing

By Eric Fletcher
Chief Marketing Officer at McGlinchey Stafford

There are still plenty who doubt (or are not yet aware of) the marketing prowess of social media. But may we propose a temporary moratorium on what at times can be a preoccupation with winning the heart of the skeptic? Social media marketers have another bottom-line concern.

Too often we allow social media strategy discussions to begin and revolve around the issues of messaging and numbers. What should we say? And how might we generate more fans, followers, and connections? All of this is in the name of disseminating our content to the masses.

There are cases when broadcasting is appropriate, such as when making an announcement, the numbers work in your favor, a brand is strong enough, or a product/service/offering has mass appeal. But addressing the masses is far from social media's greatest strength. To view this tool merely in terms of the message distribution possibilities, however enticing, is to ignore the element that gives it unique standing in the marketplace—its social nature, which leaves game-changing possibilities on the table.

The real prowess of this media exists in conversations, give-and-take, and the dynamism that exists in shared experiences.

Focus on the value of shared experience is certainly not a new idea. Town hall meetings and radio talk shows are practical acknowledgements that communication is not a one-way exercise. Advertisers and marketers have long understood that brand is something much more comprehensive than a catchy copy line or great graphic treatment; it speaks to something that exists between a company, product, or service and its consumer.

And the element that makes word-of-mouth and loyalty the stuff that makes markets drool is, at the core, experience.

For anyone still mystified by the so-called social media, this should help bring things into focus. Shared experiences are the lifeblood of the inception and growth of social. Marketers caught in the throes of opportunity and possibility either forget or fail to understand this and likely gave little thought to building their social media strategy on the experience model.

For those of us for whom the strategy continues to evolve, here is a social experience model best practices starter kit:

  • Listen to the voice of your target market. Their messages and what they care about are more important to your marketing strategy than your message. This assumes the target has been identified. If you have doubts, you're most likely hoping your fan/follower/connection base includes an appropriate number of potential customers/clients. In other words, you're playing a numbers game.
  • Stage engagements. There are multiple opportunities here, but the easiest, most practical, and most effective way to engage your market is by posing a question. What kind of question? See above. Ask questions rooted in the things your market cares about. This accomplishes two things: it provides you with a growing body of market intelligence, and it lays the foundation for a continuum of experience sharing—from aspirational to face-to-face. If you have trouble coming up with questions that engage your market, you probably need to invest more time on the listening step. (Side note: Notice that we haven't focused on disseminating our marketing message yet?)
  • Stage collaboration. In spite of how this may appear in print, this is "communication theory 101." By now, you should be in a position to identify areas where your concerns overlap with those of your market (where your product or service is best positioned to speak to something the market cares about). Invite the market to join in the creation of an answer/solution to an idea/issue that is important to them. If the logistics permit, stage face-to-face collaborative sessions. Where geography, timing, or numbers make this impractical, go online. There are numerous tools and opportunities here.

This simple, three-step approach is far from rocket science but is the essence of communication theory, though not the only approach to facilitating shared experiences. The realities of a company, its product or service, and the available resources will have much to do with what the right experience strategy looks like. But the best examples of social media marketing success will increasingly revolve around this strategic building block—finding innovative ways to tap into the voice of the market.

What can happen when social media collides with the dynamics of shared experience? Consider current events and how the shape of the world is changing before our eyes, as the voice of a state was swallowed by the shared dreams and aspirations of a people.

Eric Fletcher

Eric Fletcher is the CMO at McGlinchey Stafford, a national business law firm. With 200 attorneys operating from eight offices across the U.S., he is responsible for all aspects of marketing communications and business development for the firm nationwide. With more than 30 years in marketing and communications, Eric has produced successful radio and television programming; served as a partner and creative director with an award-winning advertising, marketing, and public relations firm; and counseled a number of the leading professional service organizations in America. Eric is a member of The Social CMO, an informal consortium of several individuals who have embraced social media and the opportunity it represents for advertising, PR, sales, and marketing.