Life of the Party Social Users are not customers - stop trying to treat them like they are.

Almost all brands and retailers understand who their customers are based on years of data collection and analysis. From cardboard cut out persona’s in their lobby’s and meeting rooms to sophisticated software that helps them guide product placement and advertising, these companies have refined their directions based on those customer insights and demographics. Enter the social user and you have the preverbal monkey wrench in those operations, causing dramatic and unpredictable shifts in their refined and scientific world of data.
Why? It’s a simple answer with an extremely complex set of practices to really come to an honest conclusion. To break it down you need to look at and treat a social user differently.

A social user is not a customer, its a person with influence and an audience.

On average, a social user is connected to 300 or more people through several different networks. That user might currently be a customer of yours but more than likely they discovered you through another social connection or message. Treating a social user with the same tools you have used in the past simply doesn’t translate successfully. New tools and strategies need to be used to not only help identify what that social user means to your business but what they are looking for, how they are interacting with you and what ultimately will cause them to convert into a customer.

A social user expects more from your message and brand.

Because of the uniqueness of a social user, regardless of their previous participation with your business, they expect more from you. Simply reusing your marketing messaging from other non-social channels and presenting it in a social network isn’t enough. Brands and retailers have battled with this for several years now without any clear winning strategy. What is becoming obvious though is that a social user wants more, expects more and when they do not receive it they move on. Recent studies from the CMO council only show how deep this problem goes with a large majority or CMO’s interviewed stated that social users are engaging with their content because their content is engaging and relevant to the brand and current messaging. When the same questions were asked of the users themselves, the answers were remarkably different. The social user wants to learn more about products, promotions of those products and if there were any special offers available for their participation.

We are on the precipice of a shift in marketing where social isn’t simply a new channel to push current messages and products, but a new venue for a new style of user that requires exclusive, authentic and engaging content that they can discover, participate and share what they find with their friends. Brand and retailers have to also start thinking of “conversion” in different contexts where ultimately a purchase isn’t the end of the funnel anymore. A conversion could now be a like, comment, share or identifying and capturing more information from the users profile for further marketing and analysis.

A social user is not engaging with you to shop, like a standard customer, they are there to learn and react to your content.

When someone walks into a physical store or visits an ecommerce site, their intentions are clear: they are there with the intent to purchase products. When a social user visits a facebook page, twitter profile or other social destination of a brand or retailer their intent to purchase is at or close to zero. Social networks were not designed to foster the same behavioral shift that a store or ecommerce site can help push – the tools and process simply aren’t there. If you head into treating your social users as customers with the direct measurement of your success as total sales, you are not only missing the point you will miss your goal. Think about why someone is looking for more information on your brand, why they are engaging with your social profiles and then think of what you can put in front of those users to turn them into customers and amplification your message to their networks.

A social user is cautious with the tools to amplify your message, it needs to be worth their while.

If you are lucky enough to get a user to become a social consumer of your information, you have access to a larger audience through their network. The promise of social hinges upon that access and how you can leverage it. Extreme caution must be employed as current social users understand the trade offs and implications of what content they share and how they engage their audience. They also expect something in return. You wouldn’t ask a person to distribute 100 flyers on cars in a parking lot without giving them something for the work, why would you expect the same from every user that visits your profiles – they are essentially doing the same thing. If you have experiences that produce engaging content and experiences, make sure to reward your user for the participation and especially the amplification (sharing, posting, etc) that is produced.

A social user is protective of their profile data, especially if they know it will be used against them.

Most experiences that are used today in a social network are there for brands and retailers to learn more about their users and help build databases like they are used to – ultimately to generate social profiles and persona’s that they are used to using. They also use this information to match likes to people as social networks do not expose user information to businesses of their fans and followers. Social users now understand this more than ever and if they know the offer or reason if greater than their perception of what the business will do with that data, they will engage. The less you ask at once, the more you can ask over time as long as the experiences are engaging to the user over time and keep them coming back for more. Part of your focus on social must be given to how you use social information and profiles over time, not just when discovered.

When brands and retailers understand that a social user is different from a customer and has to be treated as such, new opportunities to create engaging social experiences around products, promotions and offers are exposed. In the long run, the differences will get greater but the reward that a brand or retailer will gain from the trust they are building, information they are gathering and audiences they are building will ultimately lead to what they wanted from the beginning: increased sales, awesome customer data and exponential marketing exposure through social “customers”.

Photo courtesy of DoctorWho on flickr