By Dave Ratner
For all its alleged power and influence, social media is, for too many companies and consumers, an antisocial assortment of withdrawn individuals and communities: There is plenty of talk – there are monologues in every voice and volume of sound, from murmurs and whispers to shouts and screams – but little dialogue; there is corporate cheerleading, with “likes” and blind “followers” to fill those cyber bleachers with cardboard cutouts of fans, while there is nary a word of gratitude or praise for the real-life men and women who give a brand its identity; there is propaganda where there should be truth, and self-promotion where there should be news and counsel.
I write these words to celebrate the potential of social media, not to condemn it; because, as an author and entrepreneur, and as an independent retailer with two exclusive Facebook pages reserved for my line of pet food and pet products, I believe social media is the means of creating an ongoing conversation with customers.
That is, social media gives me the chance to thank my friends and supporters by recognizing their collective importance, and answering their questions and considering their comments (and also acknowledging their concerns).
It is, as a medium unto itself, an effective way to address various issues, dispel certain falsehoods and educate people through my commitment to professional excellence and personal integrity.
And yet, too many companies take too many consumers for granted; treating these men and women as disposable commodities – failing to notice or dignify their significance – despite inundating them with alerts and advertisements to buy any and all goods right now.
That approach, replete with its dependence on sentence fragments and links, is no substitute for the power of a sustained discussion about topics that matter to the very people who can transform a business into a brand.
That distinction is critical because there are many businesses, but few brands. The former may be successful and profitable, but nonetheless lack that inarticulable quality – that emotional je ne sais quoi – that results in customer love.
The latter, offline and online, is the result of a never-ending courtship of excitement, attention and tribute.
It is not enough to thank your customers, to use social media as a mass letter of greetings and salutations; it is a waste of credibility and earned authenticity to reduce your messaging to the obligatory exchange of pleasantries, and the bland recitation of holiday wishes.
It should, instead, be a daily (or hourly) destination for customers to network and socialize, to help a company with the same sense of passion and goodwill that a brand has for its consumers.
If these recommendations seem obvious, it is because there is, alas, an obvious void within the world of social media – there is a need for honor and decency, and open and free communication.
Guided by these principles, and steadfast in the defense of these ideals, social media can be a marketing asset of incalculable worth and immeasurable influence.
Those rewards begin with two words every customer should hear, and every business should say: “Thank you.”
Thank you very much, indeed.