If I were to write a newspaper article for brands that encompasses what they need to be doing in 2016 and beyond, it would have the title: Stand Out by “Liking” Them Before They “Like” You. Why? Because social media success does not come down to a mere numbers game, in spite of what some brands would like you to believe.

The basic idea seems to be that if you just keep churning out enough content, contests, and carefully optimized campaigns, eventually you’ll build an invested, engaged audience. The success or failure of those campaigns is mostly measured by how many people a brand can get to like or follow its page, with little regard to whether those people are actually paying attention. What’s the best way to turn this around?

Thinking about approaching social media from a networking and community building aspect rather than a marketing and sales aspect can be very difficult for marketers. Brands need to attract customers, but breaking through the clutter is challenging. Given the status quo in marketing for decades prior to the emergence of social, it’s natural to try to apply the old marketing template to new tools. But the old way won’t work if you want to build a meaningful social presence for your brand.

Every day brands and marketers are spending millions trying to get you to use, keep using, and share that you love their brands, but their focus isn’t in the right place. Instead they should be using some of those millions to do everything they possibly can to make experiences with their brand remarkable.

Opportunities to do this are given to brands each and every day, but they simply turn their heads, rave about their latest and great “campaign’ as if it were a military conquest, and pass up ways to really create customers for life.

Social Success Means Turning the Tables on Traditional Marketing

We all want to be liked, right? Nothing wrong with that instinct, as long as it’s channeled in a productive way. But just as in life, getting people to like you on social channels will require some initiative and reciprocation on your part. A like should be seen as an opportunity to continue the conversation and build a relationship. Too often, it’s seen as the goal in itself.

So the bad news for consumers is that plenty of brands seem uninterested in using social to its full potential, and are more concerned with benchmarks than with building relationships. The good news for your business is that you can stand out by bucking the substandard status quo, and engaging your audience rather than waiting for them to engage you.

How many brands do you see taking the time to like, comment on, and share stuff from the audience they supposedly care so much about? How many posts do you see on brand-sponsored pages that focus on something other than direct, traditional promotion of the brand? You can disguise it with all sorts of clever marketing campaigns, but at the end of the day a one-way street is still a one-way street.

Putting the Focus Where It Belongs

If you want engagement, engage. If you want participation, participate. Take the initiative, and reach out to your audience before expecting them to do the same. Be friendly, be human, and be willing to share a bit about yourself, too. Marketing campaigns have their place – even on social – but the real value comes from building and maintaining relationships.

And there’s no grand secret for how to build relationships, or at least no one “right” way to do it. There’s a ton of room to express the values and personality of your company in a way that suits your vision. The reason many brands don’t bother? It requires effort, and the results are harder to quantify than page-views, impressions, or counting up likes and moving on.

Analytics tell us so much, but it’s also important to recognize the limitations of data. There is still no substitute for engaging your audience in a direct, personalized way, learning about them, and using what you learn to provide a better social experience.

When in doubt, consider your own experience as a consumer. Are you buying from the brand whose social ads have the best production values, or the one that takes the time to learn your name, needs and preferences? You know where I stand…

Relationships are like muscle tissue, the more you engage them, the stronger and more valuable they become. #RonR#NoLetUp!

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