Follow the leaders: Claudia Batten’s social media manifesto

Social media allows us to have very efficient and effective relationships with people on a scale we have never seen before. From connecting with old school friends via Facebook and people in similar industries on LinkedIn to following people we respect on Twitter, we have an almost infinite ability to reach out to the world.

I could give you many examples where people have connected to me across multiple platforms and I have been able to speak with them or connect with them in a meaningful way. And every day it seems I can find a new way of deepening my connection with people by adding them on Pinterest and seeing what their interests are, or following them on Twitter and seeing what they are passionate about. And. And. And.

Yes, we are spending a lot of time on these platforms, but the innovation and acceleration we gain from these connections is allowing people to connect in ways we never have before and allowing new industries to develop and businesses to radically evolve. And we only need to look as far as phenomena like crowdsourcing and collaborative consumption to see our economy being reshaped by our ability to have people we have never met creating our new brand logo or borrowing our chainsaw. Look no further than the success of 99designs and Whipcar for evidence.

But this also means brands are now competing with every single person on the planet with a connected device. From videos to blog posts to witty 140 character musings, we are all contributing to the great library in the cloud that is the internet. And it is impossible to keep on top of it; impossible to ever “read” the Internet cover to cover; impossible to know what is going on across all your areas of interest. 

How can we ensure people are listening to all the important content we have to share?

The real key to being heard is twofold. First, you must stand for something: what is your platform and why should people even give you a precious second of online attention? Secondly, the smart marketers and content creators understand the crucial importance of developing their community. Your community is your audience, the digital friends and followers who are connected to you because of your platform. Take two of my favorite examples: Lady Gaga and Garance Dore. Lady Gaga now has a combined following of close to 100 million people due to her savvy use of social media and digital connectivity to gather an audience. With a platform of embracing your inner freak, she has exploded her digital reach. Dore has used her passion for fashion to gather a highly tuned in group of “dedicated followers”. 

In the case of Gaga, she uses her social reach to promote not only her music and other business interests but she collaborates with other brands and effectively shares her reach to promote their messages. Google collaborated with her to promote Google Chrome with a video that has over ten million hits on YouTube. Dore works with the likes of Tiffany and Kate Spade to aid them in reaching her savvy and fickle followers. The credibility of these women comes from the work they do to relentlessly cultivate their communities through authenticity and transparency. And in both cases, when these social media mavens speak, their audiences listen.

Unfortunately, the behaviour of most marketers is about as sophisticated as the spam direct marketing we saw in the early days of email. Even today I get emails from companies that should know better saying “we have a selection of shoes we think you will like” and then promoting shoes to me that are not in my size. They do know my size, because I buy from them all the time. So why are they wasting my time?

I would like to think that we are not too far from the day that marketers truly understand this concept of engendering community and start engaging with their consumers. Engagement is something that is so fundamental to social media because of the level of personalisation we can achieve (i.e. shoe size) and the natural tendency of consumers to tune in to a marketing platform they identify with. That is where Gaga and Dore have been so effective. It’s also why cause marketing is so effective. A company like Tom’s Shoe’s has not only created a great reason to buy (a pair of shoes given to those in need for every pair you buy) but also a great message that makes you want to listen.

We need to look at social media engagement being driven by shared interest much more than familiarity. It’s not about awareness any more and it’s a lot more about driving a connection to your consumer. What are you doing that is additive to their world/life/day? This is meaning-based marketing. This is about creating movements that your consumer can be a part of. This is about as far away from interruptive advertising as Victoria Beckham would be from a calorie. As we start to connect more from a shared interest base, we engage with brands based on what they stand for and the fact their content is compelling and instructive to the pursuit of our own interests and life goals.

  • This story originally appeared in NZ Marketing and is an edited extract from a chapter on social media in business that Batten contributed to Annah Stretton’s upcoming book Rock the Boat. It will be available April 2013 from www.annahstretton.com. 
  • Batten set up gaming ad network Massive and sold her stake in US agency Victors & Spoils to Havas in 2012. @ClaudiaBatten

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