Here’s a revolutionary thought: The direct selling industry invented social marketing. Yes, you were the first. Way back in the day, you learned to monetize “social currency” by recommending products to people through personal relationships. You are the analog version of social marketing. Let’s call it Social Marketing “1.0.”
So why has the industry been so slow to adapt to Social Marketing “2.0”? It seems natural that those companies whose primary driver is person-to-person relationships would have jumped on the social media bandwagon early on and embraced it, singing “hallelujah!” the whole way. Such a powerful method to reach people and tell stories would surely have been viewed as the holy grail of our industry.
Although a latecomer, the industry is catching up fast. Companies like Vemma and Scentsy have developed world-class Facebook communities, and Mary Kay’s built-in “Let’s Talk” platform is cutting-edge. Most direct selling companies now understand that they ignore social media at their peril.
Still, among those who sign on to social media, many companies tend to get it wrong. The best advice in this era of incredible change is to learn from others’ mistakes and make the revolution work for you, not against you.
Let’s take a look at what companies are doing, or not doing, to miss out on social media’s promise.
Mistake No. 1: They fail to commit the necessary resources
The amount of staff time and monetary commitment required to become successful in social media can be surprising to many direct selling executives. Yes, social media is generally regarded as a “free” resource; however, the expertise and time required to do it right are not. As with anything in business, investment is necessary to realize reward. It takes a lot of work. Your story must unfold over time and your community must be built fan by fan.
Spend the time to educate yourself and your team and commit the resources to see it through. A robust social presence will pay off in momentum, distributor passion and, ultimately, higher revenue.
Mistake No. 2: They don’t engage their audience
Social media is where your potential distributors and customers are socializing, sharing and planning together. For a direct selling company not to at least try to be in those conversations should be considered a dereliction of duty.
Engagement is the name of the game. Most direct sellers do not do a proper job of creating strong content on the social web and, thus, do not effectively engage their audiences. Engagement breeds interaction, and interaction is necessary because the social networks all have a built-in bias toward content that is acted upon. It is core to their business.
Facebook, for example, uses its algorithm (known as “EdgeRank”) to hide content it deems as non-relevant from a user’s news feed. A main component of that algorithm takes into account each piece of the content’s interactivity. If your updates and photos do not induce commenting, liking and sharing, then they are less likely to ever be seen.
Mistake No. 3: They aren’t active enough
The social network is a hungry beast. It constantly needs to be fed status updates, videos, photos and other content. It’s never satisfied. Content begins decaying as soon as it’s posted; a lone tweet on Twitter or post to a fan page is rarely viewable in a user’s news feed for more than a few minutes or even seconds.
The average Facebook user spends more than eight hours on the site every month, creating 90 pieces of content. Multiply that by 600 million users and you’ll soon realize how crowded it really is. New content must be constantly developed, and must be compelling enough to prompt sharing and further discussion.
Mistake No. 4: They have the wrong people leading the effort
Some companies turn the task of managing social media over to their marketing coordinator or the office receptionist in the hopes they “figure it out.” If your team does not have expertise in online community management, it will show and your performance will be mediocre at best.
Another common mistake is hiring one of the many thousands of mainstream social media consultants, most of whom don’t understand the nuances of our industry. Direct selling is not like other industries. Our online communities are very different than those of, say, a retail shoe company. Networkers are much more “a part” of our brands than merely consumers. Our fans and followers interact differently and have different needs and wants.
The social web’s importance warrants an experienced full-time employee or a social media management firm that can dedicate resources to posting, tweeting, blogging and recording each day. They must be skilled not only in content creation but also in getting your content seen and shared.
Mistake No. 5: They ignore Twitter, location services and every other free channel to reach their audience
Facebook, while the most important platform for direct selling companies, is only one of several sites needed to complete the picture. Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and the multitude of sharing and news sites should also be a part of the mix.
Direct selling companies rarely utilize Twitter in any meaningful way and often pay minimal homage to Facebook by simply setting up a fan page in the hopes their field will somehow make it work.
The future audience you want—young, connected and chatty—is on Twitter, SMS, FourSquare and dozens of other real-time sites and services. They share their every thought in 140 characters. They “live tweet” every event they attend and they “check in” to every place they visit. They are the future of your company.
Mistake No. 6: They’re boring, at least in social media
Being boring is a no-no in social media. This includes posting boring things nobody cares about, repeating content, not posting enough, posting too much, not leveraging videos or photos, and just being uninteresting overall.
Sales messages are especially boring. People use social media to share, learn and have fun. They are not there to buy things. This doesn’t mean they won’t buy, but that’s not why they visit. Constant posts about your latest product, promotion, tool or event will turn off otherwise eager fans. If the thing you are posting will not foster an interesting discussion, reconsider posting it.
Just as people can “Like” you, they can also instantly “Hide” you and your posts forever—and you’ll never know it. “Hide” and “Unfollow” are one click away. Upon every action you should ask yourself, “Will this annoy people enough to hide or unfollow me?”
Mistake No. 7: They treat their social media like an advertising channel (it is not)
Many otherwise promising social media efforts succumb to internal pressure to assist sales and marketing. Posts about the latest critical promotion or an upcoming event can get boring fast, especially when repeated.
Social media is not an advertising medium. Nor is it a press release launcher, promotional brochure or even a website. It is a platform for interaction. Think more cocktail party than TV room. Dialogue rather than monologue.
Do everything in your power to prevent your blog or fan page or tweet from being viewed internally as just another way to “get the word out” about sales-driven topics. Posts to social media sites should be made collaboratively with sales teams, but independent of them as well.
If you need to advertise, buy ads. The last thing you want is your precious fan base to be viewed as a marketing list. It doesn’t convert like that, and if you abuse it, you’ll lose what you worked so hard to build.
Mistake No. 8: They fear the social web and its uncontrollable chatter
Social networks and freewheeling Internet chatter certainly open up a threat to a direct selling company’s momentum. In my opinion, fear of the unknown is a primary reason the industry has been slow to adopt social media.
The fear is valid. The damage that negative discussions or “memes” can do to momentum is a far greater risk for direct selling than many other industries.
However, heads in sand don’t make money. Your company must adapt or it will be left behind. Better to learn how to fully integrate social media, work through the fear, whack the moles as they surface and grasp the opportunity offered by this incredible technology. No fear!
Mistake No. 9: They allow threats to fester
Because trust is such an important component of success in direct selling, our companies are especially at risk if an online problem is not addressed correctly or quickly enough. Regardless of how squeaky clean you, the company, field leaders and distributors are, you will face a “social emergency” at some point.
This threat can (and must) be managed. If a posted comment or issue is legitimate, the best approach is to own up, be honest and respond in a smart way. If it’s not valid, you may want to work with outside experts, your PR firm or a reputation firm to address the issue head-on.
Never leave it alone thinking it will just go away. It won’t.
Mistake No. 10: They fail to appreciate the power of social networking for its promise—and its threat—to their business
Make no mistake, if your company is to prosper and sustain itself for the long term, you must have a strategy to leverage social media and integrate it into your marketing and field operations.
More than that, however, is the great opportunity before you. Imagine you are on the very cusp of what will prove to be one of the greatest changes in direct selling in our lifetime. Do you choose to jump in full force or do you wait and see?
Go forth, mistake-free
Doing social media right requires a certain leap of faith. It is difficult to apply hard metrics to it. No one can come out and say “Each fan is worth exactly this much” or “If you do A, then B will happen.” The nature of the social networks is dynamic, fluid. It doesn’t follow a business rule set. Creativity and spontaneity are rewarded, while corporate-speak and shilling are punished, sometimes severely.
Rather than an afterthought in your sales plan, social media should be integrated into your entire sales and marketing strategy. This means a commitment of time, resources and people. Everybody in the organization should be knowledgeable and aware so they can identify opportunities and respond quickly to challenges.
Commit to doing it right, and engage, engage, engage.
Jonathan Gilliam is President of Momentum Factor LLC, a direct selling management and marketing consulting firm.