Back in the day, social activity was a handshake on the sales floor. It was a beer after work. It was a cup of coffee or afternoon tea. It was a tennis match or a game of chess. It was lunch. It was a conversation at a party. It was a friendly hello on the street. None of it required a monthly subscription, a marketing firm, a guru or a content strategy.

Forget the “media” for a second and focus on the “social.” Focus on the word social.

What makes social media different from TV, radio, print and traditional web? More to the point, what is it that you as a company could do with social media that you cannot do via mass media?

Think. Think back to the way that friendly store manager made you feel about shopping there. Think about the impact that being friends with your auto mechanic has on your loyalty to his repair shop, about the degree to which positive experience, familiarity and trust impact your purchasing decisions every day. Would you rather do business with strangers or people you know? Would you rather do business with people who genuinely care about you and look after your every need, or companies whose employees couldn’t care less if you are happy with them? Think about this carefully. Do you look at Facebook and Twitter as merely new marketing channels, or as rich ecosystems where you and your customers can interact in ways that enhance your value to them and in turn helps you develop them into outspokenly loyal customers?

The companies that use social media correctly, the ones who see ROI from their activity there have already figured out that the social nature of channels like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Foursquare and others makes them radically different from traditional channels. Are they using social media channels for marketing purposes? Sure. But is that all they are doing? Not on your life. Check out the breadth of activity being managed by Starbucks, Ford and Best Buy, for starters. Marketing is only a small piece of the pie when it comes to the type of activities these companies engage in when it comes to the social web, and for good reason: Social media is not marketing media.

There are two things I want you to think about before we tackle Part 2 of this post. The first is this: If a company focuses its social media efforts on marketing, what is it not focusing on? Answer: Online reputation management, customer service, consumer relations, user groups, technical support, and consumer engagement, for starters. Yes, you read right. I used a social media buzzword. En-ga-ge-ment. Except that when I say it, I know what it means. I am not talking about marketing posing as engagement. I am not talking about content, contests and entertainment. I am talking about real engagement. The kind that feels like a handshake, like a conversation over coffee, the kind that develops trust, preference and loyalty in consumers. The real brick and mortar that companies can build their bridges with rather than the house of cards they are overpaying agencies to piece together for them. Social should feel like a handshake, not like a marketing message. Not like “content.” Not like a sales pitch.

The second thing I want you to think about is this: There are three clear phases in the customer life-cycle. They are acquisition, development, and retention. You’re a business and you want social media to work for you? Great. Your social media activity has to focus on all three phases, not just the first.

We know that your agency can get you lots of “likes,” follows and views. And as a company, you have paid the price for every single one. Now what? Did your digital agency, your marketing partner, your superstar consultant also factor in the rest of it? First question: What are you acquiring for all that social media spend – new followers or new transacting customers? Second question: Are you using your social media presence to develop these new customers into regular customers? Third question: Are you using your social media presence to further develop these customers into loyal customers, even ambassadors for your brand and products?

If all you are doing with your social media potential is handing it over to a marketing department, a digital department or an outside agency, you are not. All you are doing is spending money on reach and follower acquisition. Think beyond acquisition. What are you doing through social media to develop customers, to increase their frequency of purchases, the yield of their transactions? What are you doing to develop them from potential customer to new customer, from new customer to satisfied customer, from satisfied customer to repeat customer, from repeat customer to loyal customer, and from loyal customer to evangelist?

Move beyond the marketing/acquisition mentality or you will never get anywhere in this space. Later this week, in Part 2, we will dive a little deeper into what I mean by that.

To learn more about how to properly build social media programs that involve but are not limited to marketing:

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