The internet has become an invaluable tool for consumers across the globe. Whether you are writing a research paper, watching videos, searching for a long-lost user manual, grocery shopping, or connecting with friends through social media, the internet has become a ‘one stop shop’ for almost every human need. Stephen (2016) stated that 87% of US adults spend 20.5 hours per week on the internet, and most of that time is spent on social media networks. As users continue to increase the amount of time spent on the internet and social media, their ability to use and manipulate social networking sites has evolved as well. Today’s tech-savvy consumers know what they want and how to get it fast and cheap. They also know exactly where to go for entertainment, news, employment, inspiration, and customer reviews and purchases. These tech-savvy consumers have also become more aware of marketing and sales tactics and grow increasingly annoyed while waiting for pop-up ads to disappear so they can continue enjoying their social media experience.
With that understanding, “marketers are increasingly seeking guidance for targeting consumers who will interact and behave in ways that are meaningful to the brand on social media” (VanMeter, Syrdal, Powell-Mantel, Grisaffe, & Nesson, 2018). In response to this problem, brands have started to shift their approach to marketing and promotion to a more customer-centric approach. By researching and targeting a narrow segment of consumers, brands can positively affect their profits by directing messages exclusively to those consumers that are most likely to purchase specific products or services.
Shifting your brand image and messaging to align with a customer-centric approach will not happen overnight. It will take some research, trial and error, and behavioral changes to be successful but the long-term benefits of creating a community that serves as a resource and encourages engagement amongst followers will result in greater exposure, increased loyalty, and better brand recognition. As you read through this article, take notes, create a timeline for adjusting your brand approach, and hold yourself accountable to following through on your plan.
Although it is tempting to saturate every social media platform available on the internet to increase reach and profits, you should research each of the social media networks and only use the platforms that align with the traits of your target audience. According to Langstedt & Hunt (2017), only about half of the US population have multiple social media accounts mainly because each social networking site has a different function for different audiences and people often choose platforms based on the perceived compatibility of the social network to their personal character traits. Understanding each social media platform and choosing the right vehicle to promote a brand can contribute to its success of failure. Often, “less is more” when choosing a social media platform to establish a brand presence.
Once you have committed to the appropriate social media platform, you should work on modernizing your brand image. Re-creating a brand image is no small task. “Images have communicative power unlike any other form of media” (Jones, 2015). Today’s consumers are drawn to images that promote an idealized identity and reflect a level of exclusivity. Jones (2015) stated that people have an innate need to connect with a community, and the group they choose is largely based on the idealized rewards of belonging to a specific community. That is why researching your target audience is so important, it helps your brand understanding the audience and choose images that appeal to their specific style, attitude, and culture. Zhang (2015) stated that consumers would make purchase decisions based more on a brand’s image rather than the actual product. Additionally, if the brand’s image reflects the consumer’s self-concept, they will pay a higher price for it.
After your brand establishes an image, you should begin researching your competition. Find out what kind of information they are distributing, what types of interactions they have with their followers, and begin to develop the voice that will accompany your brand image. Zhu & Chen (2015) stated that much of the US population utilizes social media to connect with people, whereas businesses are simply trying to sell goods and services. Your goal should be to bring balance to the promotion/engagement mix of your social media plan. If you don’t want your marketing material to be viewed as a sales ad, consider developing informative content with a customized message that answers the question “what’s in it for me?” Dawson (2015) described the importance of storytelling in social media due to its emphasis on creating shared meaning instead of sounding like a sales pitch. Consistently providing valuable content through storytelling, whether in a post or a video, will promote engagement and position your brand as an industry leader as it aims to solve problems and satisfy the customer’s needs.
One of the best ways to create valuable content is through real-time engagement and social listening. Tracking conversations and engaging with your followers is a form of social listening. It provides a great deal of information about the target audience, exposes areas that need improvement, and helps to generate meaningful material for future posts. Lorenzon (2013) stated that 80% of social media engagement with businesses are related to customer service inquiries, and 65% of people prefer online engagement over call centers. When consumers experience a high level of responsiveness from an organization, they feel valued, they are willing to keep the conversation active, and they are more likely to promote your products and services both online and offline.
Although excessive social media use has been associated with low self-esteem, depression, and poor quality of sleep, Janicke-Bowles, Narayan, and Seng (2018) revealed that there is a positive relationship between image-based social media, specifically Instagram, as well as higher levels of life satisfaction and trust for Facebook group members. Brands that deliver inspirational experiences will contribute to follower’s overall feelings of well-being, vitality, as well as increase the likelihood of future visits and content sharing. Inspirational content may be the future of social media and your early adoption of these methods can lead the way to promoting better health and well-being amongst your followers.
Another way to keep your brand relevant and engaging is to mix up your social media content. Along with promoting inspirational content, posting ‘throw-back Thursday’ pictures, boldly colored infographics, sneak peeks into new product releases, videos highlighting the work of employees, and sending personalized messages from the CEO help to humanize your brand and keep it relatable. Experimenting with new social media content will help to reveal the interests of your target audience and generate a sense of FOMO and keep followers coming back for more.
Including your audience in co-creation and innovation are two sure-fire ways to increase engagement and promote customer satisfaction. “Businesses that do not innovate, die. Even the largest and most established brands must continue to be innovative as there are always newer and more agile start-ups ready to disrupt the marketplace” (Weber, 2013). Your brand can increase social media engagement by asking, “what can we do better” or by creating a contest aimed at making improvements to a product. Customers feel valued when they know their opinion matters. When you follow through on implementing new policies or improving a product, it amplifies your brand and generates a loyal following.
Sharing images of the people responsible for innovative ideas, along with reporting on updates about the implementation of such efforts will generate sentiment and authenticity. Encouraging followers to share your messages on their personal social media feed also helps to increase your brand’s reach. Hefner et al. (2016) described how social sharing by followers, whether it be a social media post or a product review, increases the chance that other consumers will purchase the product as well.
Brands that wish to see continued to success must transition their social media marketing to a customer-centric approach aimed at educating, entertaining, and engaging with its followers. Creating a customer-centric brand will take some time and effort, but the benefits cannot be ignored. Targeting an audience and delivering messages exclusively to those consumers most likely to purchase your product is the most effective way to reduce a marketing budget and increase profit. I know it is silly, but I have to say it, “if you build it, they will come!” Thanks for reading!
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