Fans, schmans! If you judge your business by its social media numbers your bottom-line may be suffering.
"A perfect day for me is when I don't see a difference in the work I'm doing and the fun I'm having," says Peter Shankman, the author and consultant best known for founding Help a Reporter Out.
It's obvious from the get-go that Shankman's personal brand is based on transparency, generosity, relevancy and humor; he is connected to his audience. Shankman, who has helped brands such as Walt Disney, American Express, Discovery Networks, and even NASA and the Department of Defense, to better understand how to merge their social media, customer service, marketing, advertising, and public relations into one.
"Social media is here to stay," says Shankman. "And it's not just about getting followers and fans–you need to have a plan. You need to figure out how to translate your efforts into revenue. If you don't have a plan, don't know what to do with your followers–or worse, ignore them, then you're doing it all wrong."
In spite of 132,459 Twitter followers and 52,411 fans on Facebook, Shankman believes that it's not about the numbers. "Numbers don't matter," he claims. "What's important is that you understand your audience, know what they want, and give it to them."
Shankman knows that if you put your focus on getting more fans and followers that you are not focusing on what matters: The followers you already have.
"If you focus on the people you have following you, they will tell everyone else why you are so great and they will do your PR for you." Shankman's success is evidence that taking the time to understand your audience, pays off. "Know what they want and give it to them," he says. "Having any number of followers and fans is a privilege, not a right."
If you follow Shankman's blog you will agree that he is authentic and transparent in his relationship with his audience. It's clear that trust is part of the success equation in Shankman's business.
"Keep it real, be transparent and own what you do wrong," Shankman advises. "There is no better way to get an audience to trust you than to be honest with them when you screw up. Be honest and open, be the person who people think you are."
You will also notice the casual approach in Shankman's interaction with his audience. But there's a skill to that too. "Bad writing is killing America," Shankman says. "Too many people don't know how to write and poor grammar and spelling will destroy your business faster than anything. If I go to your page and see a spelling error, how can I trust you to do anything else right?"
Shankman puts his money where his mouth is on this one; his employees know that he will pay for as many classes as they are willing to take. "Become a better writer, read more, go back to Shakespeare for goodness sake," says Shankman.
So once you've completed Proper Grammar 101, how can you create a strong bond with your audience? "Be relevant" Shankman says. "You will know when what you are saying is beneficial when you see people retweeting and commenting. And remember that sometimes less is more in social. Your audience would rather you hit them once a week with something they want than five times a week with something that is pointless. Know your audience and listen to how they like to get their information. If they prefer Facebook and you're on twitter you're an idiot!"
But how do you know what your audience wants?
"Ask them!" Shankman exclaims. "You will never know a more vested audience than one that is getting the information the way they want to receive it because you took the time to ask them how they like it."
I challenged Shankman on this because he has an absolutely huge following. Isn't it easier to get feedback when you have hundreds of thousands on your list? Apparently not.
"If you have an audience of five people, that's five people who you can ask how they like to get their info. And you give them the info they want in the way they want to get it, they will be so thrilled that they will tell five more people and, boom, you've just doubled your list!" he says.
With that kind of loyalty your list size really doesn't matter. Your fans will do your PR for you, buy from you, and support you as you grow. "Keep it interesting; surprise your followers," Shankman suggests. "Give them discounts; give things away and have fun!"
Shankman clearly believes in living life to its fullest and enjoys his work as much as he enjoys his personal life. He shares his marathon and skydiving experiences with his followers and embraces the importance of sharing a great attitude as well.
"Bring enjoyment and happiness into life and work," he says. "Life is too short not to. And if you are having a bad day don't let it affect anyone else's day. Don't be mean and negative; I've never met anyone who said they wish they were a meaner person. Be kind; be real."
So how do you know if your authenticity and relevancy is working its magic? Shankman stresses the importance of tracking your updates and offerings. So, it's not really true that you shouldn't follow the metrics in some cases.
"Are people following your links and using your discount links?" Shankman asks. "Is your revenue increasing and can you track that back to social?" You can track this through link shorteners, Google analytics and other dashboards. "Any social media 'guru' who tells you that you can't track these things is just trying to cover his butt," he adds.
Shankman is especially passionate about the "stupid mistakes" that he sees businesses of all sizes making in their social media strategy, or lack thereof. I asked him to leave us with a few words of wisdom for those folks. Here is his rather colorful analogy: "Stop listening to people who tell you it's all about fans and following numbers. Twitter number count is just the new penis envy; it really doesn't matter. What matters is how you are using those tools to connect to your audience."
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