What is a follower worth?
What about a Like? Or a share? Or the newer, cooler +1?
The prevailing wisdom in social media seems to be that one way or another, social attention will eventually convert into buying action – the new spin on the old “if you build it, they will come” line from Field of Dreams is that “if they follow, they will buy.”
Except that all too often, they don’t.
This is the frustrating experience of far too many bloggers and social media experts, who have tons of readers, tons of followers, tons of people who “like” them… and no money.
They’ve missed something very important about how social media has changed our economy…
What Goes Around Comes Around
Karma is the idea that what goes around, comes around.
You reap what you sow – it’s the principle that drives our economy, and always has been. I give you something, and you give me something – if one of us doesn’t participate, then we’re stealing, or cheating, or both.
But things have changed.
Thirty years ago, everything had to do with money, goods, or services. Even when something was given away for “free”, it was understood that the intention was to get you to eventually buy something.
Today, things are different, and it isn’t all about money.
So what is it about?
Different things – as Greg Rader explains in his Value Universe framework: sometimes it’s still about money, but often it’s about attention, or relationships, or even gifts.
But remember the principle of karma? What goes around comes around, so…
- If you get people to read your blog (attention), they aren’t going to expect to pay you (money).
- If you give people free e-books and videos (gifts), they aren’t going to expect to pay you (money).
- And if people follow and “like” you (relationships), they aren’t going to expect to pay you (money).
The common thread is that in all these cases, people don’t expect to pay you (money) – and that’s a big problem!
That Wasn’t the Deal: Why Conversion Is Expensive
Attention, gifts, and relationships are their own form of currency, and when you’re dealing in one of these currencies, people expect you to keep on dealing in that currency.
Converting to a different currency, namely money, comes at significant costs:
- When you try to convert relationships into money, the relationship feels cheapened.
- When you try to convert gifts into money, the gifts seem self-serving, and lose their value.
- When you try to convert attention into money, the audience can turn on you.
Case in point: I recently spoke with a colleague of mine, who is a brilliant marketer and copywriter. He had spent ages cultivating his email list, offering nothing but free, valuable content.
Now, being the superstar that he is, he was asked to speak on a webinar panel. So naturally, he emailed his list telling them about it, and offering them the opportunity to sign up. For a free webinar.
And he got spam complaints.
There wasn’t even anything for sale, and he got spam complaints. That’s how indignant people get when they feel that they are dealing exclusively with one of the other currencies, and they think you’re trying to convert it into money.
So what’s a marketer to do?
Does this mean that you can’t get paying customers from social media? Should we just leave it alone?
No, of course not. Here’s how to do it…
Making It Explicit
The long and short of it is that you have to make it explicit.
If you’re going to ask people to buy something, then don’t try to “sneak it in” under the radar, in hopes that it will be so natural that they won’t even notice.
Believe me, they’ll notice.
Tell them that a pitch is coming. Explain that they’re free to ignore it, but you’re sharing it because you think there’s value to be had. And explain that if they’re not comfortable ever seeing this sort of message from you, they should probably unsubscribe, unlike, and follow somebody else.
I encouraged my copywriter friend to email something like this to his list:
SUBJECT: Spam complaints? Seriously?!
[NAME],I have to get something off my chest.
Since I started this mailing list back in [START DATE], I’ve done nothing but share my ideas, tips, and resources with the people who’ve subscribed.
I’ve never asked for anything in return. Ever.
Two days ago, I emailed you all about the upcoming webinar I’m doing. There was nothing for sale, and there won’t be on the webinar.
And I got spam complaints.
I realize that the complaints didn’t come from you, but I’ve got to tell you that honestly, it felt like a punch in the gut. For two reasons:
- The complainers were implying that I was lying to them, and had an ulterior motive with the webinar. That isn’t cool.
- The complainers were also implying that I have no right to ever talk about anything that isn’t free. Not cool either.
So let’s clear something up. First of all, I say what I mean and mean what I say. Nobody gets to question my integrity without a good reason.
And second of all, this is a marketing list. I send you tips on copywriting and marketing. Did you really think that I would never, ever have anything for sale?!
I promise to never send you anything that I don’t 100% stand behind and believe will be helpful to you. But if you’re not comfortable even receiving an email like that, then please unsubscribe.
Again, [NAME], I realize that you probably don’t share the sentiment of the complainers, but I just wanted to get this off my chest, because I couldn’t sleep last night I was so upset.
And if you do share that sentiment, then really – just unsubscribe.
Is that fair? Am I being unreasonable? What do you think?
What this email – or one like it – would do is frame the interactions that my friend has with his list, and make it explicit that it is okay for him to make an offer once in a while.
Of course, you don’t have to be all serious, and it helps to use humor in the writing. The important thing is to get the message across that it is reasonable for them to expect an offer once in a while.
If they see it coming, then they’re less likely to complain. And people don’t buy when they’re busy complaining!
Turning Attention, Gifts, and Relationships into Dollars
Now of course, the above email is just a semi-hypothetical illustration – the delivery will vary from audience to audience, and media to media.
The important thing is the message – setting expectations with your audience about what is reasonable, and what isn’t.
Big brands already know this, and don’t have to worry about it – just by virtue of being big brands, people know that something is for sale (nobody thinks that Dell or Air Canada or Cirque du Soleil just want to be friends…).
But when you’re marketing a smaller business or brand on social media – one that your customers don’t automatically associate with a product or service – you have to make it explicit.
And who does it best?
Copyblogger, while being focused on copywriting, is basically a blog about blogging. This is a niche in which, for the longest time, even talking about money was heresy.
And how did he do it?
By calling a spade a spade. Calling out the taboo, and making it explicit: of course there will be something for sale, and of course the goal is to make money.
Remember – expectations are really what hold people back from buying – the sense that you’ve violated the accepted terms of your agreement.
And that just doesn’t have to be the case.
Okay, over to you… have you had trouble converting gifts, attention, or relationships into money in the past? Would you try something like this with your audience? Leave a comment and let us know…