Social Media Marketing: Building Social Media Reflexes & Overcoming Them (Part 1)

Doctors tell us to do things that are good for us. And yet, most of us don’t do what we’re told. We have hard heads. 

To illustrate this point, 50% of Americans diagnosed with a chronic condition stop taking medication that may extend their lives. 

Think about it. When told we need to take medication to live longer, most of us don’t do it. Forget about what happens when we are told to lose weight…

The most important words here are “told” and “hard heads.” 

When it comes to behaviors, when we are told what to do, we’re likely to have a major rush of blood to the head and do the opposite. 

Our heads are hard – because doing things that are different takes effort and energy. Doing what we’ve always done is easy. It’s one of the reasons why confirmation bias plays such an important role in our processing of information. The incentives for change have to be very significant for us to do things differently. And then, we need to believe that the change was our idea so we feel in control.    

In my recent article about the way we think in dimensions, How to Think Outside The Box to Make Better Client Connections, I outline the biological and evolutionary drivers behind this.

How does this hard-headedness relate to social media marketing?

Simply put, if you are not a digital native, making the leap to engaging audiences through social media takes effort. It requires work. And, in the frenzied rush of 21st century life, you’ll have to make choices to do one thing rather than another. 

As a result, most of us, including business leaders and established companies, are more naturally inclined to stick with what we are used to - maybe lead with sales campaigns, spend more on conferences or rely on building our networks to generate new business. We don’t naturally look to new solutions that we don’t really understand.        

At this point, our digital natives, savvy social media experts and marketers who look at the world through digital eyes, will find it as hard to process the idea that companies or individuals are still on the sidelines, even as companies find it difficult to get off them.

If we think about a bell curve, we’ve got social media savvy leaders - often startups and large companies with resources - on one end, and at the other, we’ve got people who simply aren’t engaged and can’t be convinced there is any benefit. 

In the middle are the majority of companies, often small and medium-sized organizations, who may still be dabbling or looking for ways to move beyond their minimum viable social media proposition. 

Here’s the punchline: Companies need to both overcome social media reflexes and develop them if they are to be successful and see a return on their social media engagement. 

It’s important for social media marketers to understand a company’s reflexes if they are to successfully engage with them.   

In Part 1 of this article, we’ll look at what I call the “barrier” reflex. In the second part we’ll discuss the “implementation” reflexes that are key to successful programs.           

When approached about social media, the first response for many business leaders is to reflexively say, “I’m not sure this works for our business.” ”Our clients aren’t on social media.” Or, “It’s not a priority right now.” As a CEO, I understand this.    

In part, this reflects perceptions that still hold true for many, that social media means jumping into bed with the Kardashians, taking selfies, and, that it’s a dangerous space where saying the wrong thing may blow up your company. Except, of course, if we’re talking about LinkedIn. Yes. This is a space for grown-ups, but for many, it’s just for adults looking for jobs.

I know I’m exaggerating a little for effect, but these are reasons and concerns – barriers - that still come up. It’s important not to dismiss this because, for those who are focused on running a business, a reasonable refrain is: Who has time for these things? 

So, no surprise when a social media, marketing or communications expert brings up social media in conversations with executives of a certain age and tells them they have to do more with social media. Reflexively, they don’t get it and, well, not a lot happens. 

Done right, social media could well be the medicine that increases longevity, drives new business opportunities, and engages clients. But many dabble with it, and six months after the experiment starts, companies fall off the wagon.    

Part of the problem here, again to use the medical analogy, is we’re really not very good at investing time for future prospective rewards. Most would rather have the marshmallow now, than two in the future.     

If we don’t get an immediate sugar rush of benefit – social media engagement is a time consuming, slow-build process – we’re unlikely to keep taking the medicine, especially if that medicine diverts part of the company’s marketing budget with no immediate ROI. The incentives all too often don’t seem big enough or clear enough for many to take the plunge. The same was often true, way back when PR was the only game in town. 

In order for a company to invest the time and resources required to build an effective social capability, they need to have a clear purpose and desired outcome in mind. 

This is where both companies and those selling to them fall short. 

The company may not know what to expect and the social media service provider may well serve up generalities around what can potentially be achieved. 

When clients don’t know what to expect, it’s hard to make decisions. And, without measurable goals that can be tied to business outcomes, most companies will stay on the sidelines. Getting specific is important. It requires a detailed understanding of a company’s business, the touchpoints, and the people influencing buying decisions.    

For a financial services company, social media engagement may, for example, be framed as a channel to provide educational materials to clients and advisors which ultimately drive sales discussions. For a steel manufacturer, it may provide an opportunity to share and engage with clients around the impact of tariffs in ways that achieve policy goals. 

The point is, for each company and industry, there are very specific outcomes against which a social media program can be aligned in ways that will resonate with that company. 

The key is to ensure that the perceived incentives for spending the time and money on these initiatives have a clear and demonstrable ROI that’s big enough to drive action. And defining metrics that show progress toward business goals is critical, as is ensuring they are realistic.

This may sound basic, but there’s still room for the blind to lead the blind. The problem is that unfocused engagements risk taking companies down dead ends. 

The responsibility rests both with companies and agencies to knuckle down and develop a strategic approach to achieving goals. 

By engaging with business objectives in mind – not just being on social media as the goal – there’s a real opportunity to change minds and help companies overcome social media reflexes, move off the sidelines, and engage in ways that leverage the full potential of this important channel to drive their business forward.

For the second part of this article, I’ll focus on ways companies can develop their social media reflexes to achieve their goals.


Read Part 2 - Social Media Marketing: Building Social Media Reflexes That Drive Success or other recent articles including "Social Media & the CEO (Article & Video)" and "Social PR: Shonali Burke, Founder of Social PR Virtuosos, C2C 3-Min Insights Video".  


Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatchTM 

Locke writes extensively on issues related to communications, PR, media and behaviors. Prior to founding CommunicationsMatch, he held senior corporate communications roles at Prudential Financial, Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank, and founded communications consultancies.   

CommunicationsMatch offers communications & PR agency search tools and resources that help companies find, shortlist and engage communications agencies, consultants and freelancers by industry and communications expertise, location and size. The site has 5,000 agency and professional profiles in areas including: crisis communications, public relations, internal communications, government affairs, investor relations, content marketing, social media, SEO, website development, photography, and video. 

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