The fourth estate: Social media as “rented” media

Traditionally media has been described in three ways: paid, owned, and earned. But it’s time to add a fourth category that’s applicable to social media: rented. Perhaps its because I’ve recently entered the ninth circle of hell (also known as the housing market in the Boston area) that differences between renting and owning property are at the forefront of my mind.

Sure, it’s common to hear social media described as “earned,” but I think that’s a limited, very PR-centric perspective. Earned really describes social sharing and is akin to “buzz” (ow, writing that word hurts a bit). It’s important, but certainly not the whole story.

You Don’t Make the Rules

So, what do I mean by rented? Ever read Facebook’s TOS and all their different platform policies? You don’t own a damn thing that happens on your company’s Facebook Page. Facebook frequently changes settings and algorithms that affect how people find and engages with your Page and your Page’s content— often without disclosure and without warning. You certainly don’t “own” the audience you build there. There’s no database of contact information you can download from Twitter, there’s no cookie you can use to track the behavior of a visitor to your Facebook Page, there’s no responsive web experience you can provide. In short, you have a home base on these channels, but you don’t make the rules or set the terms.

Why Renting is a Smart Idea

So why bother spending time and resources building an audience on channels that may change at any moment?

Because it’s not a “point, click, buy” world anymore. The Internet (for better or worse) has enabled a world where there are endless options—whether someone is looking for a pair of bunny slippers or enterprise software for their business. It’s very difficult (and very expensive) to rely exclusively on “push” methods of marketing, e.g., display ads, discounts, or other ways marketers use to disrupt audiences to get them to “BUY NOW!!”

But You Can Play the Game
Building an audience via social channels is the ultimate way to fish where the fishes are. You don’t own the pond you’re paddling in, but these ponds have the most (and perhaps the best) fish. And if you’re having trouble getting your haul back to shore, the problem may not be the pond. You may just need a better (or different) boat.

Impatience is a Killer

First of all, building a “better boat” doesn’t just happen. It takes time, persistence, reliable and relevant content, creativity AND a strategy (not ‘post and pray’) to build an engaged audience. And you won’t know what works until you start making educated guesses, taking small risks, and be willing to fail. Not every post or campaign is going to be a raging success. That’s okay. Try it out; measure it; make it better; repeat. The great thing about social media is that you get to take a lot of swings.

One of the biggest mistakes businesses make when it comes to social media marketing is being impatient. You have to invest a lot upfront, give more than you ask, and not do what everyone else is get other people to sit up and pay attention to you. When you’re in the building stage you’re working towards earning the right to ask your customers back to your place. Focus on the relationship, not the end goal. If you (or your manager) is asking what the ROI of each tweet is, you’re doing it wrong. The right question is: “What will the value of this relationship be?”

Earn the Right to Ask

After you’ve earned your keep, then you can go about getting folks from your “rented” space to the spaces you own, namely your website, your blog, your contact list, or perhaps your brick and mortar location. The point is to get your customers and prospects to a place where they can make a purchase or make the next logical step in making a purchase. Most social media users do not make purchase directly on (or from) site, but they are exponentially more likely to buy and recommend from brands they engage with on social.

ROR: Return on Relationship

The impact of social media on hard business goals has been well documented for years now. The problem is that all the correlation data in the world won’t get you to those metrics that are specific to your company. This is also an extremely complex problem because you’re dealing with so many different channels with different integrations, different metrics that are tracked on each channel, and different purposes (and therefore benchmarkers of success) for each channel.

The best way to make the social media effect “real” to your organization is to make sure your social contacts are recorded (by channel) in your company’s CRM. If you’re also tying in website triggers to your CRM as well, then gold star for you.

Once you begin to connect the dots between your owned, earned, paid, AND rented media, you can begin to measure what kind of customers social media nurtures. The kind of questions you’re trying to answer are, “Do our socially engaged customers buy more, stay longer, and refer more than our non-engaged customers?” “Are our Pinterest followers more likely to buy a product when referred?” “Are our Twitter followers better customers?”

Your CRM is the language everyone in your organization speaks and is the best way to prove your program’s value.

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