Recently when presenting a social media marketing strategy to a new client, the head of the organization admitted that she just “didn’t get this social media stuff.” I came up with an analogy that I knew really worked because afterwards, she said, “Ahh, I get it now. We do need to do this.”

Have you had trouble explaining why social media marketing and engagement is important to your management team or to clients? I wanted to share the analogy I used so that it could help others better understand the importance of social media marketing.

A Trade Show in Cyberspace

Think about social media marketing as traditional marketing at trade shows, except it’s in cyberspace. Why do you attend industry events? One of the main reasons is to showcase your products and services, connect with thought leaders, and connect with potential leads. Social networks provide a virtual opportunity to showcase your brand, business network and connect with potential leads, just like in the real world.

Finding Your Audience

Let’s say you want to allocate resources to attend a conference or trade show for your industry. First you want to figure out which trade show will put your products and services in front of the people who will want to buy them. You will discover who your audience is as you engage with them at your booth or meet them in sessions you attend.

With social media you can conduct research to find your audience and target them in cyberspace. Creating an audience segmentation document helps you focus your social efforts. Community research informs you of where this audience convenes online. Rather than connecting with them at a booth, you will be connecting with them on LinkedIn Groups, G+ Communities, forums, etc.

Connecting With Your Audience

Before a conference, you may visit the conference web site to look at the agenda and start reading up on who the conference speakers are. You will print out the agenda and circle the sessions you want to go to, hoping to have a chance to talk to the speakers. You’ll get excited for breaks when you can work on your elevator pitch to connect with the people you researched.

In social media, you can do the same thing. Once you know the audience you are targeting, you can start following them on various platforms, reading their blog, posts and tweets to see what they are talking about. You can comment on a blog post, retweet or share their content, and start corresponding with them, establishing a relationship. Once you have built a mutual connection, you can begin to work together to help each other in business.

A man and a women engaging at a trade show table

It’s Not All about You

Finally it’s the day of the event. Let’s say you have a table in the exhibition area. You have some marketing brochures and data sheets to give out. You sit in your chair and wait for people to come to the table. Not much traffic, eh? You notice that there are many tables with interesting things going on – demos, informational presentations, raffles and give-a-ways.  Some may have Graffiti boards, photo booths, or magicians. The speakers may even mention some of the cool things going on at the booths during their sessions and bringing even more people to the already popular booths. Sitting at your table with your promotional brochures, you just can’t compete!

Conference attendees having fun drawing on the Graffiti board at the DragonSearch booth.

Can your empty booth compete with the neighbor’s Graffiti Wall?

Now, if this were social media, and you were only posting promotional content about your products, isn’t it the same as you sitting at your table, waiting for people to come to you to take a brochure and learn about you? Are you offering anything enticing, educational, or informative? Do you have any contests, useful apps or video demos on your social media accounts? If not, then why would anyone want to follow you and visit your page? If they are ready to find out more about your company, they can just go to your website and read what you do there. The beauty of social media is that when you put the right content out there, and have something of interest to offer, the audience and influencers amplify your message and share your content to an ever larger audience – just like how the speakers might mention exciting things at some of the booths.

Bored looking person on their mobile phone sitting behind at table at a trade show.

Waiting for the audience to come to you.

So how do you get new visitors to your page and get them to share your content so others find out about you? Let’s go back to the exhibit hall. So you want to draw people to your booth. What do you do? You would be talking to people, going to their booths to meet them and inviting them to see what you have in your booth. You’re chatting over breakfast or cocktails, or discussing a topic at a birds-of-a-feather table at lunch, and then suggesting they stop by your booth later.

It’s just like that on social media. You’re not just broadcasting promotional material. You’re looking at the twitter feeds of your target audience and influencers and having a conversation with them, hoping they’ll look at your profile and read your blog, even share your content. You’re going to online groups and communities to talk with like-minded people who may be interested in what you have to offer or you’re participating in a Twitter chat, like a virtual cocktail party, mingling in various conversations, making new friends. With your engaging content, people may be naturally curious enough to look at your profile and click on the link to your website.

A round table with conference attendees eating lunch and networking.

Business networking during lunch.

The Follow-Up

You may make some connections at the event, meet them for a side meeting or lunch, or go out to dinner or drinks afterwards to deepen the connection. After the show you might follow up with the people you met with a phone call or email.

In social media marketing, you’d be sending direct messages on twitter, or exchanging email addresses or phone numbers and continuing the conversation offline. You might send them a tweet about how excellent their presentation was, or continue to share their content about their experience at the conference. Either way, you’re working to solidify the relationship.

Mingle, Engage and Connect…and Find New Business!

You’ve probably noticed this too. The people who are the most active at conferences….you know…those who are seemingly everywhere, talking with key people, engaging in group discussions in hallways, asking relevant questions at sessions…are the people who go home with the most leads. They made the most of their time and can claim the conference or trade show was a success.

The same is true for brands that are the most strategically active on social media. Their brand is being well represented by an active social presence across multiple platforms. They see results in the form of increased followers, high engagement rates, more web site visits and lots of conversions. Those companies are building their brand equity and, in essence, taking home the most leads!

I’d love to hear what analogies or explanations you’ve successfully used to explain and convince potential clients or management about why they need social media marketing and engagement. Please let us know what worked for you in the comment section below.

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