So, social media marketing is about the conversation, not the pitch. People are starting to get that. This is a good step, but what does it mean in practical terms? Having conversations with people is nice, but the goal of a brand is ultimately to get people interested in spending their time or money on the brand, after all. What does having this conversation accomplish, and just how does a brand use that conversation to get the critical conversion from conversation to customers?
The Key Thing: Customer Investment
Just about everyone's familiar with the smart and trendy Mac commercials. They've been seen, redone, spun off and parodied just about to death, and will stand as icons of excellent advertising. But think about it - when was the last time you saw one of these commercials on TV? How often do they actually come up anymore?
The fact is, Mac's most consistent and open advocates are its users. People with an Apple notebook can't wait to tell their friends about it, take it around in public and talk up its virtues. This is true in other areas as well - Honda users have fan sites for their chosen vehicles, most people get into novelty diets or exercise programs as a result of their friends' influence and so on.
So, give people a reason to talk about your brand - by making it their brand.
Step 1: A Place to Talk
There is no reason whatsoever not to have a public, open discussion forum for your brand on your site. This can take the form of the comments section if your brand consists of a simple blog, or it can be a whole message board. Definitely have a Facebook page and enable comments so that people can provide input on your frequent, informative updates.
Step 2: Other Places
People like to put up fan sites of their own, in addition to official ones. This should never, ever be discouraged. Yes, there are some risks with having a site that isn't under your direct control. However, very few people are going to respond favorably to "big business" quashing the "little guy" who only wanted to show off how much he liked a certain product the business makes.
Instead, leverage this as an excellent opportunity. Contact them as an official representative and mention how much you appreciate their interest. If someone has a whole webpage dedicated to your bestselling line of how-to books, make a friendly "how to be an awesome fan" spotlight on your page showing off their site. When people see how well the brand treats its fans, they will talk about it.
Step 3: Talk it Up
Wherever people are talking about your brand, make sure they have good quality information on things, and that the information you give them is tailored to your audience's expectations. If your brand is high-class technical engineering tools, provide rigorous specifications your users can dig into. If it's a fashionable line of casual Sunday wear, offer interviews with the fashion designers and what their inspirations were. Give them some real meat to talk about, and they'll be chattering for months.
Further, remember the reciprocity principle. If a conversation seems to be really taking off, jump in on it. If someone raises an interesting point in an otherwise quiet thread, give it a boost with some official insight. However you see fit, get involved in the discussions and help people see that you want to talk about the brand as often and as early as possible. Spur the discussion, encourage the argument, do whatever you need to keep the party going just one point longer.
Step 4: Reward Interest
This was touched on slightly in Other Places, but it can be expanded further into its own point. McDonald's recently gave an award to one of its most loyal customers, Don Gorske. The restaurant recognized him as the world's premier Big Mac enthusiast, since Gorske has eaten more than 23,000 Big Macs over the course of his life. An odd award by most lights, but McDonald's certainly reaped the attention, and Gorske has gone on to be a guest on Super Size Me and The Rachel Ray Show.
Most brands can't quite leverage that degree of influence, but there are many ways to reward a fan for loyal interest in a brand. Perhaps your biggest fan deserves an advance shipping of the newest product you're planning. Maybe she's read every one of your novels to date and maintains such an active author-fan community that you'll use her name for the heroine of your newest work. Or perhaps the reward is a friendly lunch where you talk about ideas for the brand, and other things you have in common. Maybe you even hire your No. 1 Fan because he has some genuinely excellent ideas.
In General, Think Humanely
No list can comprehensively contain all the material that will get people interested in and talking about any brand. There are so many verbal tricks, psychological cues and special gimmicks that even trying to Google them would take months of research.
The biggest key is to think like a human. Remember the advertisements or conversations that got you interested in something, that made you want to participate in a brand as its advocate. Try to extend those same thoughts into what you put into your brand, and you'll draw in people just as interested as you.