A Focus on Finding Customers Online Doesn’t Work

how to set up an online storeBut Social Networking Does – there’s a big difference.

If you’re focusing on getting new customers online, research shows you’re not going to get many. By the way, it’s no different offline. This study could rock the online marketing world, or at least the SEO’rs, who focus on activity vs. results.

In the dark ages (Nov. 2008), when the biggest Twitter account had “only” 73,395 followers, I did a post on Why Social Networking Can Be a Bad Idea. A year later (Sept. 2009) I challenged the common usage of the term Social Networking.

This month Gallup released results of an intensive survey – Social Media: The Three Big Myths – saying much the same thing – you won’t get new clients from social media. So why do it?

Stop Focusing on Selling

The big myth is that using social media to focus on getting new clients works. Gallup confirmed that it doesn’t. They surveyed 17,000 people to find out this big duh. Gallup went on to say that we should instead focus on engaging our CURRENT and ENGAGED customers instead. Another big duh.

We just don’t believe being human works.

Social Networking is Best Done in Person, THEN Online

We keep trying to digitize our relationships, and big surprise, people actually want to talk with people instead. A study by the Wharton School backed this up in Dec. of 2010 – over 90% of word-of-mouth product discussions happen offline and a significant chunk of the 10% of online discussions, start offline. Social networking has always been, and will always be more of an offline way for people to engage with each other.

Here’s a clue:

People buy from people, and they buy more from people they like.

This manic need to avoid relationships and just sell our shiny object isn’t new. You’ve all met “that guy” at a networking event who is the offline version of the pop-up ad, always in your face with a product you weren’t looking for. He has no interest in you as a person, just as a target. Online marketing suffers from the same self-focus.

We just assume that because our product is so great, all we have to do is get it in front of new potential clients and they will buy. Gallup confirms that not only will this focus on new customers not work online, you can’t even expect to retain your existing ones via online communications.

The key word here – focus.

Gallup confirms what I’ve believed about online media all along – you are unlikely to engage new prospects by focusing on them directly through online media. Instead, Gallup shows that the best use of online media is to engage with your most ACTIVE and COMMITTED customers online, and as you engage them, gently encourage them to advocate for you.

We think social engagement online will make someone want to buy, but now we have hard core evidence that’s not true. Just the opposite – being engaged as a customer will drive social engagement and make them want to talk to you online. And those existing customers will advocate and bring new clients – you won’t.

The Game Changing Conclusion

Want to win new clients online? Stop focusing on them, and go back to building raving fans with your existing clients – they will bring others to you.

Again is there anything new here? My wife went to this place called Panera Bread many years ago. They focused on her as a customer, not me as a potential customer. She came home and told me about the place, and I’ve spent thousands there since.

The big successes will come when you can engage your existing clients and raving fans both online and offline simultaneously. That’s a powerful use of the online world – as another place to meet your friends.

The SEO’rs won’t like this, but it’s not about click-throughs, which by this study, are largely added noise. It’s about existing committed/loyal clients bringing others to your site.

Why are you online? To get new customers? Think again. The best way to make that happen is to focus instead on the people who already love you, and let them do the Panera Bread thing for you.

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