Big brands and small businesses alike are flocking to social media in droves, but most only become notable when they get hacked, fake getting hacked, or make a major faux pas. We see very few shining social media moments from brands because almost all companies are making the same mistake.
So what’s wrong with these examples?
— BlockbusterOnDemand (@BlockbusterOD) June 17, 2014 
#LookUp : The #Chrysler300 ‘s available panoramic dual pane sunroof offers the most expansive view in its class. pic.twitter.com/jRHl8oJtOb  — Chrysler Autos (@ChryslerAutos) June 23, 2014 
They’re broadcast messages. They’re generic and lifeless, aimed at everyone in general and no one in particular. These companies are not talking to their followers. They’re talking AT them. The tweets are all about the company or product — not anything that would be remotely interesting to their followers
Compare those tweets to these:
— Netflix US (@netflix) June 23, 2014 
In the example above, Netflix is engaging with a Twitter user who expressed the need to stop dropping his iPad on his face when watching Netflix. Netflix was listening and cleverly responded with a solution: A hands-free iPad holder that’s perfect for the Netflix customer who falls asleep watching movies.
So every #Dorothy  needs a #Toto . Here’s mine, during my #UNminivanMoments  adventure with… http://t.co/GVVcf4EXKC  pic.twitter.com/0KOlMv2PLF  — Lizza Monet Morales (@xoxoLizza) June 17, 2014 
In the next example, Ford didn’t need to say a word. The company just retweeted a customer who was already pushing its product. The result was an authentic product endorsement.
The Problem With Broadcast Messaging
The main reason most companies fail to make these authentic, personal connections with customers is that they’re trying to apply traditional broadcast messaging tactics. These tactics work for mass media such as TV, radio, and newspapers that reach millions of people covering a wide range of demographics, interests, and needs — the so-called “masses.” But they’re inappropriate for social media.
Unlike traditional media, which are unidirectional and make gathering real-time feedback virtually impossible, social media channels are all about connecting with a highly targeted audience and engaging in real-time conversations with real people about their interests, needs and questions.
When businesses try to apply traditional tactics to social media, it results in boring posts that bring the same lackluster outcomes as traditional media: A 98 percent failure rate or, as the industry calls it, a 2 percent conversion rate.
It’s time to stop settling for such abysmal results and start engaging your fans and followers.
Authentic Conversations: The Alternative to Broadcast Messaging
Succeeding on social media requires marketers to flip the funnel and focus on people instead of impressions. Have one-on-one conversations, not one-way monologues. This approach has several benefits:
- It shows you really care. When you’re listening and engaging rather than spewing out messages, it shows you care about forging real relationships, not just driving sales.
- You connect better with your audience. Getting a personalized, authentic response makes customers and prospects feel good. You took notice, and they feel valued. Do you think they would forget you so easily now?
- You’re more relevant. In a conversation, you have to start where the other person is to connect with his reality and experience. If a customer is upset, you need to respond. If he’s excited, you should share in the excitement. These posts will resonate with customers better than just saying whatever seems right.
- You get valuable feedback. Sure, you could spend tens of thousands of dollars on market research and see the results six months later. Or, you could listen to what your existing and prospective customers are saying on social channels and get actionable feedback right now.
- You’re viewed as more credible. Telling the world how great your product or service is means very little, but nothing beats the believability of what others say about your company.
Are you ready to give real conversations a try?
How to Have Authentic Conversations on Social Media
Although we have conversations all the time in real life, translating them to social media may not come naturally. Here are a few ways you can create a dialogue with your followers without getting too off-track:
1. Ask questions, and use pictures to make the questions stand out in users’ feeds.
Make the question fun, interesting, and easy to answer. Wendy’s does a knockout job here:
Anyone else do this? pic.twitter.com/DXMHx3Fid7 
— Wendy’s (@Wendys) June 21, 2014 
Notice how one seemingly innocent question asked on Twitter inadvertently turned into thousands of endorsements for Wendy’s fries. (I’m sure more than a few got hungry and just had to go out and get some fries after this conversation!) AMC Theatres asks a compelling question and includes a natural, pleasant promotion:
This tweet just goes to show that you don’t have to sacrifice your marketing messages to make genuine connections with your audience.
2. Listen and respond appropriately.
Monitor social media for mentions, or even images, of your product and respond accordingly. Make sure that the person who’s managing your social media knows how to reply to complaints without antagonizing customers, avoiding the issue, or making your company look even worse.
3. Create promos and giveaways that truly engage your community.
Ask your social media connections to post a photo, caption an image, or upload a Vine around a relevant theme and give a prize to the best one. You can either choose the winner or have your audience vote by awarding the entry with the highest number of “likes,” +1s, or retweets.
4. Listen for purchase intent, and compel them to buy — now!
Did someone mention wanting to buy your product or try your service? Give him a coupon exclusive to Twitter, and double the coupon’s value if he retweets it. That’s how you transform intent into action and make it contagious.
5. Surprise your best fans with gifts.
Every week, pick a social media connection who’s been particularly supportive, helpful, entertaining, funny or interesting, then mail them a box of swag. Not only will you make them feel like a superstar, but they’ll also probably tweet about it.
Businesses that try to apply traditional media tactics to social media are missing out on an opportunity to make real connections with their audience. By engaging in two-way conversations with your followers, you’re building a real community of lifelong fans and advocates who will spread the word about your business.
This approach takes more effort than broadcast messaging, but it will provide better results for much less money.
Social Media  Photo via Shutterstock