Converting Your Social Media Triple-Fs: Friends, Followers and Fans

I’ve heard many gurus, marketers and publishers brag about their social media followers. They’ll say things like, “Isn’t it great … I’ve got 10,000 fans on Facebook” or “I have more than 15,000 followers on Twitter.” Then I’ll ask them how many free e-newsletter subscribers they have. And they’ll reply, “I haven’t had time to build a list yet. I don’t have an e-newsletter.”

I’ve heard many gurus, marketers and publishers brag about their social media followers. They’ll say things like, “Isn’t it great … I’ve got 10,000 fans on Facebook” or “I have more than 15,000 followers on Twitter.” Then I’ll ask them how many free e-newsletter subscribers they have. And they’ll reply, “I haven’t had time to build a list yet. I don’t have an e-newsletter.”

Well, in my opinion, they’ve won only half the battle …

It’s fantastic that they have a following on social media—people who seem to be interested in their messages (posts) and their overall philosophy. They can certainly cultivate these relationships to assist in their marketing efforts. However, I remind these gurus that the “fans” are following them. It’s a passive relationship. And there’s an awful lot of background noise in a news feed that can distract their fans.

If you don’t have fans’ email addresses, then you cannot have one-on-one communications with them. Building and cultivating a list is a fundamental business strategy for sales growth.

In the publishing world, a list (email addresses of free or paid subscribers) is sacred. It’s one of the most valuable things you own. You protect it and treat it with care, because your list is your financial bread and butter. It’s made up of people—customers and subscribers—who can make or break your business through their purchasing power or lack thereof.

Your list is also your leverage—what you use when reaching out to other synergistic publishers and friendly competitors to do reciprocal JV (joint venture) swaps and revenue share deals.

So, if you’re an online publisher, guru or business owner who has social media followers but no list, you’re at a disadvantage. Initiate a plan to capture your fans’ email addresses immediately and get permission to open up the personal lines of communication.

I recommend that you make a special conversion effort to encourage social media followers to give you their email addresses, or, as we say, “opt in” to receive your marketing messages.

This typically involves creating strong promotional copy and a lead-generation landing page (also know as squeeze page), where the goal is to capture the email address of the friend, follower or fan.

The offer should be something that will resonate with your fan, such as a useful and relevant free bonus. Some popular examples are a whitepaper, e-newsletter or e-alert subscription, audio download, bonus video, webinar or teleseminar..

Some marketers also offer coupon codes or gift certificates in exchange for an email address or the option to be in a “VIP club,” where you’re the first to hear about special offers.

Freebies will vary based on what you have to offer in exchange. Ideally, this is something that has a perceived value and is immediate and relevant. You run the campaign for a two-week period at a time, mixing your conversion messages with your regular, organic daily posts. It’s ideal to drive traffic to specially coded pages so you can track traffic and conversions. You can also make sure your sign up box on your website’s home page is up and ready for stray organic traffic. Then you monitor email sign-ups and website traffic (via Google Analytics), to ensure list growth and traffic source referrals.

Aside from captivating copy, many variables come into play to make sure the effort is successful. These include making sure email collection fields are at the top, middle and bottom of the lead-generation landing page being used, as well as in a static (fixed) location on your website. There should also be links to your privacy policy and an assurance statement alleviating any concern about email addresses being rented or sold to third parties.

It’s also critical to clearly disclose before users submit their email addresses that opting in to receive your freebie also gives them a complimentary subscription to your e-newsletter (if applicable), along with special offers from time to time.

Finally, you should follow up with a series of autoresponder (targeted messages) emails welcoming your new subscribers, reminding them how they signed up, offering strong editorial content and special new subscriber offers.

These emails facilitate bonding; validate that the correct email was sent; ensures that the user is aware of the sign up; helps reduce false “do not mail” reports, email bounces and general attrition; and most importantly, improved life time value.

So before you get enamored with your Facebook following, realize that to monetize these names takes a conversion strategy. Once you start building your list, you’ll add a whole new value to your businesses valuation.

Forget Real Friends, Just Fake It

If someone “likes” your brand on Facebook, or gives your website or blog posting a “thumbs-up,” is that a meaningful metric as a marketer? If your Twitter followers keep increasing, does that mean you’re publishing valuable content and helping position yourself as an industry thought leader? I used to think so, but I was disappointed to learn how disingenuous the entire process has become.

If someone “likes” your brand on Facebook, or gives your website or blog posting a “thumbs-up,” is that a meaningful metric as a marketer? If your Twitter followers keep increasing, does that mean you’re publishing valuable content and helping position yourself as an industry thought leader? I used to think so, but I was disappointed to learn how disingenuous the entire process has become.

In pre-Facebook days, if we liked a brand/product/service, we would talk positively about our experiences. We’d gladly refer colleagues when asked, or write an email or letter praising the organization. If we were truly brand ambassadors, we’d proudly pontificate and evangelize at the drop of a hat.

With the creation of the digital “thumbs-up,” a click of the mouse records your endorsement or disagreement in a split second. And, as marketers, we greedily record and compare those statistics as a justification for the impact that our brand might be having on the target market.

Every time I post a tweet, I can’t help but glance at my increasing “follower” statistics and wonder what 140-character pithy remark prompted them to start following me. It also adds a bit of pressure to make sure I keep my followers interested and engaged with my marketing insights.

But on several occasions, when scanning a discussion group on LinkedIn, someone has created the challenge: “Like me/our company on Facebook and I’ll like yours!” My reaction is swift and from the gut… “Like you? I don’t even KNOW you.”

Perhaps I’m naive, but I was under the impression that if your brand provided quality products and services that were deemed useful to your target audience, or you posted information that was helpful/funny/smart, then your reader/user gave you the good old “thumbs up” as a reflection of their approval. So imagine my surprise when I found a site where you can buy Facebook “likes” or Twitter followers!

For a few bucks you can add hundreds or thousands of “likes” to your page, or increase your Twitter followers instantly … all with the goal of seemingly increasing your brand popularity and, in turn, helping your site move up in rankings and search results.

Who thinks up this stuff?

Clearly an entrepreneur who has figured out that anything worth having is a business just waiting to happen—even if it means that what you’re selling is a tool to help companies scam potential customers.

And what about those companies that purchase “likes” or Twitter followers? Perhaps if they spent more time and money on running honest and helpful businesses that customers truly liked and felt good about, they wouldn’t have a need to purchase fake “friends” to boost their fake popularity.

I know how hard it is to build and sustain a business in a world filled with ruthless competitors. But I can promise that your business won’t get ahead by faking friends.

Talk to the (Twitter) Hand: The Perils of Non-Engagement

Every day, companies are jumping on the Twitter bandwagon—and perhaps, yours has done the same. Maybe it’s the lure of gaining new followers. Or possibly the attraction comes from all those Twitter success stories circulating the ‘Net. Or maybe it’s because Twitter takes five minutes to set up and doesn’t cost a dime. That’s OK, too. The thing is, many brands forget that Twitter is more than having a “who’s bigger” follower list or having the ability to Tweet pithy sales pitches.

Every day, companies are jumping on the Twitter bandwagon—and perhaps, yours has done the same. Maybe it’s the lure of gaining new followers. Or possibly the attraction comes from all those Twitter success stories circulating the ‘Net.

Or maybe it’s because Twitter takes five minutes to set up and doesn’t cost a dime. That’s OK, too.

The thing is, many brands forget that Twitter is more than having a “who’s bigger” follower list or having the ability to Tweet pithy sales pitches. Twitter is two-way communication, people. Not a one-sided soliloquy where you’re Tweeting solely for corporate self-gratification.

So let’s talk about two major brands that “get it” and use Twitter to its fullest potential. And then zero in on one company’s massive Twitter #fail.

Alaska Airlines and Starbucks give really good Tweets. When you read them, you get a sense that there is a person behind the computer—rather than a faceless corporate PR entity. In fact, Alaska Airlines even names the person handling the Tweets that day. And yes, their Tweets are more than just what these folks had for breakfast. For instance, Alaska Airlines promoted gift certificates and Starbucks previewed an upcoming sale on Cyber Monday (see the actual Tweets in the media player at right).

But here’s what makes both companies decidedly different: These brands engage with their customers. Starbucks and Alaska Airlines chat with their Twitter followers, answer questions and provide real-time customer service (see more examples in the media player).

Pretty cool, eh? And that’s why many people follow Alaska Airlines and Starbucks. The content is good, you know you’ll get a response and you’ll learn something. Maybe it’s early notification of a sale. Maybe it’s when in-flight wi-fi will be back. It’s useful information.

Let’s compare this to Citibank’s Twitter stream.

To say that Citibank has had reputation management issues in 2009 is putting it mildly. From taking bailout money to hiking credit card rates on some customers to 29.99 percent, the bank’s latest missteps have caused many good customers to cut up their cards. If there ever was a time for a robust social media campaign so people could “meet” the friendly customer service team members behind the scenes (that is, humanizing the corporation), now would be that time.

The good news is that Citibank has a Twitter account. The bad news is that it’s running it all wrong. Rather than using Twitter as a way to engage customers, the firm’s locking its customers out.

For instance, check out some Tweets mentioning @citibank in the media player, above, followed by a screen capture of Citibank’s Twitter page.

So, OK, let’s give Citibank the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it signed up for a Twitter handle to protect its brand identity—but doesn’t plan to leverage this account for some reason. You could almost forgive the bank … except for the Twitter account promoting the Citi Forward credit card (see the media player again, please).

Here are three problems:

  1. Although it will re-tweet, Citibank doesn’t answer Tweets (I tried)—so there’s no real interaction
  2. Saying that Citi Forward is “the card that rewards you for good behavior” seems a bit disingenuous considering that other Citibank customers with good credit histories have had their interest rates hiked to almost 30 percent.
  3. There’s no customer service component.

In short, Citibank is basically telling its Twitter followers to “talk to the hand” (or perhaps, its middle finger.) Rather than dealing with its reputation management issue head-on—communicating with folks and showing the human side behind the financial institution—Citibank is sending out Tweets that provide useful tips, yes … but talks AT its followers rather than WITH them.

If you’re planning a Twitter account (or currently maintaining one,) remember that Twitter is a real conversation (in 140 characters or less.) You wouldn’t keep a friend who constantly talked about herself, seemed oblivious to how other people perceived her and never listened to you.

It’s no different in the online world.

The perils of non-engagement in the Twitter universe are real—and the rewards for an excellent, interactive campaign are also real.

After all, what would you rather do? Tell people to talk to your Twitter hand or, instead, engage with your prospects and customers in a new, interactive (and profitable) way?

Seems to me, the choice is easy.