4 Surprising Ways to Connect with Consumers on Social

Social is the fastest-moving industry we’ve ever seen. Keeping up is enough of a challenge and yet we’re all being asked to not only keep up...but to lead. Through all this change, however, one thing has remained constant: social’s value proposition. At its core, social is all about connection. A personalized, bi-directional connection that banner ads and norespond@namethatcompany.com can’t touch. Connection is what makes social special.

Gone are the Mad Men days when meticulously designed ad campaigns defined a brand in the eyes of consumers. Today, you no longer own your brand. Thanks to social, consumers talk directly at brands and the expectation for those brands to respond is higher than ever. Those conversations, those connections, those moments… they define your brand.

So with expectations higher than ever and the mediums for direct connection constantly evolving, I asked some of the brightest minds the business: What are some unexpected ways brands can connect with consumers on social? The answers might surprise you. None of them include VR or AR or any other buzzy new technology. Instead, the answers boiled down to the basic tenants of human relationships. In the race to stay ahead, do we sometimes forget what we’re all here for in the first place?

Ann Handley: Pick up the Phone

Chief Content Officer, Marketing Profs

Here’s the simplest and often-ignored answer: RESPOND. I’m using shouty-caps to emphasize it. Maybe that sounds like lame, obvious, big-fat-DUH advice, totally expected advice… but if so, then why don’t more companies subscribe to that practice?

Exhibit A:

< crickets >

Exhibit B:

< crickets >

Keep in mind that I have 357K followers on Twitter. Also, we’re homies—I live in Boston, that company’s hometown. I add those details only to add an extra head shake of are-you-kidding-me disbelief.

I finally gave up on social and got in touch through the press page on the web site. (They were very nice when we finally connected, by the way.) I don’t mean to pick on any one brand. But this situation isn’t unique. Social media gives big brands a chance to act like human-scale small brands. That’s a pretty tremendous opportunity, isn’t it?

So why don’t more brands embrace it?

Now a brand that absolutely SLAYS?

JetBlue. My favorite example ever is when I moaned on Twitter that I stupidly left my book in an airplane seat-back pocket on a JetBlue flight. I didn’t expect to ever see it again.

But guess who was listening? And guess who got her book back the very next day? And guess who is crazy-loyal to JetBlue now?

SLAY, I tell you.

Spredfast says: I hear yea, Ann. Social is the new phone and you better pick-up. We recently did a study that showed that 93% of brand content is 1:1, as opposed to the 7% of 1:many that we’re used to seeing. Social customer care is here to stay and brands that do it well create incredible customer loyalty.

Dave Kerpen: Surprise and Delight

Founder and CEO, Likeable Local

One unexpected way brands can build deeper connections on social is "Surprise and Delight," that is, to surprise (ideally influential) consumers or fans on social networks.

An example of a brand that does this well is Mastercard. For a long time, MasterCard has been running its "Priceless" advertising campaign. But they also launched a surprise-and-delight-focused program called "Priceless Surprises." MasterCard connected with members on social media to give them spontaneous gifts and prizes, like a meeting with Justin Timberlake, an exclusive Gwen Stefani concert, or even VIP tickets to the Grammy Awards.

Spredfast says: Yes! So often “social customer care” is thought of as only responding to complaints and questions. Those are important, but brands that are maturing on social in the area of care are taking it a step further. Another great example is our friends at Brooks Brothers, who are also leaning in a lot on this—and it’s paying off.

Brian Solis: Design “The Embrace”

Author of X: The Experience When Business Meets Design

Whether it’s social or real-life or the web or mobile, most brands miss the opportunity to really connect because they are too busy trying to reach people or trying to get their attention.

What is an experience? It’s an emotional reaction to a moment. It’s sensed, it’s felt, it’s something that connects with people—or doesn’t. Merely trying to get views and impressions isn’t valuable. It’s converting those impressions into experiences that becomes far more meaningful for brands.

Smart marketers know this: they realize that experience is human, and emotional. I call it “The Embrace,” when I have your attention and you have my attention. What are we going to do about it?

You have to design for those moments. When we talk about designing experiences, what is the experience you want me to have? Do you even know me? Do you even think about what’s going to happen after we have this moment? And that’s where designing an experience really begins. Understanding that there is a human being on the other side of the screen. Understanding their aspirations, their frustrations, and designing for that. It’s only when you do that that you meet and exceed their expectations.

I don’t think enough marketers contemplate and reflect on what an experience is. In the answer to that question lies an opportunity to get to know customers better. They’re looking for things. They connect with things. Put the human element back into our work.

Spredfast says: Connection + Empathy. That’s what we talk about every day here at Spredfast. It’s not about account names and product features. It’s about the human on the other end and what they are experiencing every day. How can we put the tools in place for them to do the best work of their career? How can we all create experiences that matter?

Spike Jones: Find your Passionate Fans

VP of Strategy, Spredfast

A great way to connect with customers is to connect with advocates – the ones that aren’t influencers and therefore receive little attention from the brand, but are nonetheless passionate fans.

One such way we’ve done this in the past is to make a simple video about an individual, someone who the audience can relate to because they are “just like me.” We had him talk about his life–and not necessarily about our product. He revealed all these other passions he had, which instantly connected us with new and diverse audiences and gave us a new angle on how to approach and appeal to them.

People love to share content that’s all about them (and not about you). When you use that content in an authentic way to shine that brand spotlight on an advocate–instead of yourself–you can generate a lot of excitement.

What have we learned?

In the end, change is constant in social, but keeping the human connection top of mind will ensure you’re on track and doing work that matters.

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As Director of Global PR, Courtney Lowell tells the story of us. Her days are spent developing relationships with media and influential thought leaders, while her evenings are reserved for exploring Austin's food scene and spending quality time with her bearded husband and two dogs.