Making social media truly social

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When I go to most Facebook fan pages or follow brands on Twitter, I see a lot of promotions and deals.  While this is a great way to build up initial numbers, I think many brands are missing a big opportunity to tap into how people are currently talking about their categories or brands.  Joining the existing conversation and providing your fans and followers with real value is likely to be a much more sustainable and profitable way to build an ongoing relationship.
There are a large number of categories that are intrinsically social. People just naturally like to talk about them.  As a starting point, I have identified 8 to think about.
1.  Those you do with other people: Entertaining, going to bars and clubs, and shopping for clothes.  People want to know what is new and be in the know.

2.  Seek ongoing advice: Investing, books, babies, wine, beauty products, and fashion. These are topics where people are actively looking for product details and recommendations from experts and friends.  Pampers is a great example of a brand who has jumped into the conversation around babies in an engaging way.

3.  Need expertise: Buying a car, computer, or house, and choosing a vacation destination.  These generally large purchases have a multi-step decision making process and people seek information, referrals, recommendations, and price comparisons.  Dell is a leader here.

4.  Share experiences around personal milestones: Birthdays, weddings, having babies, triathlons, anniversaries, and moving into new homes are just a few of these milestones. Photos are almost mandatory here. Sharing videos is even better.

5.  Celebrate occasions: Holidays, holidays, holidays. As retailers know, holidays trigger shopping. Almost everyone needs gifts and family favorite food and beverages before the holidays. This involves planning and some consultation with family and friends.  The new partnership between Amazon and Facebook is a great way to help. After the holidays, families want to share stories and photos.

6.  Show status with brand associations: Luxury or iconic brands like Guinness, Harley, Ralph Lauren, and Apple are a few that have real badge value.  Apple and Harley are already masters at leveraging the communities around their brands.  Facebook “Likes” has made it even easier to link to brands.

7. Rally around a cause. There are very few things that can ignite passion and bring people together like supporting a non-profit organization or a personal cause.  Running a race, sharing a virtual drink, and buying special products are all ways to tap into social networks to raise money and help people give back.

8. Like to obsess about: Sports and weather.  These are the topics that hold polite conversation together. While everyone recognizes the potential of sports, I think marketers underestimate the huge number of people who are fascinated by and following the weather.  Take a look at The Weather Channel’s Facebook page to get a sense of it.
I am sure I missed a few, but as you can see, there are quite a few opportunities to naturally make your brand part of the existing conversation.  Identify where it makes sense to insert the brand and how you can add value.  The occasional deal or promotion is a nice way to reward your most loyal customers, but brands need to go beyond it.