Software is Not a Social Media Strategy

Jennifer Fong's Facebook Profile

Jennifer Fong's Facebook Profile

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend recently where software companies claim to solve all of a direct sales company’s social media requirements with their latest and greatest software tool.  Companies can control the message their distributors send, they claim!  You can build a whole community within your own little bubble, within your control!  While I am not knocking any particular software application, I think it’s important to realize that you don’t need to pay for a software platform in order to use social media effectively.

Part of the beauty of social media is the fact that the tools where the most people are are free.  If you build your own social community on your own website, you’re going to have to complete the additional step of driving traffic there.  What’s the compelling reason for your prospects to come to your community?  Why not operate in environments such as Facebook, where your prospects already hang out?  Why would they go to your homegrown community for fun?  To be sold?  I don’t think so.

You also need to realize that the conversation is going to go on within Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking platforms whether you participate or not.  You will not be able to tightly control the message.  Those days are over, and it’s best not to even try, because that could come back to bite you in social media circles.

Now I’m not saying that direct sales companies shouldn’t consider software solutions.  But it’s important to take a step back and consider the overall goals of your social media and total marketing program first.  What do you want to accomplish?  Who are you trying to reach?  Where do you want to drive traffic, and what are the conversion objectives? How will participation with your brand shape brand perception?  How will you measure success?  Without answering these critical questions first, investing in an expensive software platform is a mistake.

Basic sales strategy says you go where the people are.  It’s not “If you build it they will come.”  People are already using free social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter, and that’s where they’re connecting with others.  Some are already complaining that they’re overwhelmed with these tools.  Why on earth would you want to add another?  You don’t want to make doing business with you a social media chore.  Instead, blend into the communities that already exist, bring value, and drive traffic that relates to your conversion objectives.  That’s how you’ll experience success with your overall social media strategy.

Your thoughts?  Would love to read them in the comments!

6 Responses to Software is Not a Social Media Strategy
  1. Chad
    May 29, 2009 | 2:27 pm

    While I agree with parts of your post, I believe there are several things you are overlooking.

    My comments come from experience offering a social technology platform to several large MLM clients (we also partnered with some of the largest back-office vendors as well that have been in the industry for decades). They see a lot of value in a private platform for several reasons.

    1. Culture. Successful direct sales companies create a unique culture around their brand. This is often more important than even their products (or so they tell us) because they can add new product lines as they grow. Enhancing that culture and deepening relationships unique to their brand can thrive in a private community. This cannot be done as well (nor would one want too) on existing platforms, for several reasons.

    2. Retention: Most of your post focused on prospects and recruitment, however, retention is usually the #2 concern for a direct sales company. A private community with specific tools to connect people will help them not get “lost” during those first crucial weeks. Feeling a part of something bigger than just their recruiter does wonders for retention. And what better place to do that then within a private community, organized by corporate for fellow distributors.

    3. Real-Time: Why wait until convention to highlight the incredible efforts of your up-and-coming distributors? Its 2009, this doesn’t have to wait, and it doesn’t have to be done via email. Rank advancements, number of new recruits, and other data can be shared with the community to inspire and motivate. It can also be pushed to other “big” platforms like facebook. Interacting with the “big” platforms in this way doesn’t “turn-off” your friends because it is subtle.

    4. Unique tools for your culture: Some clients have a weight loss product and therefore have utilized our platform for weight loss competitions. This gives them a social way to connect and motivate others. It is also a fun way to bring in prospects, something you can’t do on facebook. Other clients are looking at ways to create social buzz around an event or party before, during and after that event. The focus is on that event and the purpose of the event. It doesn’t get lost in the noise of all the other things happening on your other networks.

    And, there are lots of other reasons our clients have shared with us on why it makes good business sense to have a private community for their brand. In most cases this doesn’t involve prospects, except in the few cases mentioned above.

    I do agree with you in the fact that the corporation should definitely be involved within the conversations on other platforms (facebook, twitter, linkedin). They should also encourage their distributor force to be involved. Social media of all kinds should be used to reach out, grow awareness, and contribute to the conversation.

    But, like Dogster, Boompa, WeightLossWars and other niche social networks, there is a lot of power and value in customizing the experience around the needs and interests of the audience. Facebook can’t serve all communities in the best way.

  2. Lisa Robbin Young
    May 29, 2009 | 10:13 am

    Bingo!

    This goes back to the “democratization” commentary in an earlier post. Pretending that facebook or twitter or other social media contexts do not exists will not make them go away – NOR will it make them less relvant to your company. Companies large and small need a social media strategy.

    This includes individual direct sellers. Slapping up a facebook page and posting monthly specials in your status doesn’t not count as a strategy – unless your strategy is to annoy the few who continue to follow you.

    Social Media requires interaction – give AND take – not a one-sided “down your throat” approach to brand communication.

    Companies (including “you, Inc” direct sellers) need to find ways to engage their prospects/customers/clients where they are at already.

    In V. Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”, he comments on this very idea. Instead of trying to drag, coerce or force people into your worldview, you need to meet them where they are, introduce them to yoru world view and continue to invite them to take the next step in doing business with you.

    Gone are the days of hitting people over the head with the “my company is better than the rest” diatribe. There’s far too many voices beating their chests with the same message now. People are far more savvy then they were even just a few decades ago – and they KNOW that you need them. Without them, you fail to exist.

    So make it easy for them to connect and get excited about what you have to offer in the world. Don’t just tell them what to think (it doesnt work anymore anyway). Tell them you care about what they’re ALREADY thinking, and help them share it with you!

    Jen, youv’e done it again! Great post.

  3. John Bottom
    May 29, 2009 | 10:05 am

    Jennifer – agree wholeheartedly and it’s nice to see the point made so neatly. Someone said that social media was like the world’s biggest cocktail party and people attend to have conversations, not to be sold to. Your point about companies trying to create their own social media hub is a bit like holding their own party down the road because they want to show off their house!
    This whole thing is very natural and people shouldn’t try to over-complicate. Social media is what it is because that’s how people like it – otherwise it wouldn’t exist. So the way to exploit it is to let people be people. A simplification, but an important principle to remember, as you have suggested so eloquently in your blog.

  4. liajen
    May 29, 2009 | 3:12 pm

    Chad,
    I am so glad that you weighed in on this discussion. And you’re right, there are things a private community makes possible that can’t be done in public forums. The point of this post was to make the point that companies that are beginning to consider social media shouldn’t feel like a huge investment in software is a barrier to entry. There is plenty a company new to social media can be doing to engage the conversation without putting forth a lot of capital. I am familiar with your client (thanks to Josh) and it is evident that you have some nice features to your platform. However when a company makes the choice to invest in a large software platform such as yours, it should be included as part of a well thought out social media strategy, and not thought of as a solution in and of itself. Otherwise the company misses out on the larger conversation, which is happening in places such as Facebook and Twitter.

    Here’s to the conversation!
    Jennifer

  5. Chad
    May 29, 2009 | 3:22 pm

    Gotcha. For those that are just starting out, and just want to join the conversation on external sites like facebook, then there shouldn’t be any software costs. The only costs would probably be time.

    Thanks for the fun post!

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