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Social media marketing strategies: Cut cliches, add opinions

Effective online engagement with customers starts with conversations that use feelings and opinions, rather than cliches and facts, to build lasting relationships.

Social media marketers use online communication to retain and convert customers and build trust in the brand, leading to the ultimate goal: brand loyalty.

But some methods work better than others.

Marketers can harness the rules of basic psychology to create more effective social media posts that garner customers, rather than just followers, according to B Squared Media CEO Brooke Sellas.

During a presentation at the HubSpot Inbound 2023 conference last week, Sellas emphasized the importance of using social media posts as an opportunity to communicate thoughts that appeal to customers' values, rather than just as a platform to share information about inventory.

"Brands sell feelings, not products," she said. "We buy based on emotion."

Using feelings instead of facts

To illustrate the effectiveness of communication style in marketing, Sellas spoke about the social penetration theory. This theory asserts that people disclose different types of information as they get to know each other and form relationships. Basically, it's like peeling back the layers of an onion, she said, calling it the "onion theory."

The theory's different degrees of disclosure fall into four categories: cliches, facts, opinions and feelings.

One common mistake that brands make is they create social media marketing posts using cliches and facts, when they should be using opinions and feelings, Sellas said. She then explained why cliches and facts fail to build strong relationships online.

Cliches are the weakest communication style because they don't even qualify as disclosures, Sellas said. No new information is revealed.

If we want to ease consumer distrust, we have to use more emotion in our content marketing.
Brooke SellasCEO, B Squared Media

An example of cliche communication would be someone having a bad day, but when that person gets in an elevator and a stranger asks, "Hi, how are you?" that person responds, "Great!" That is a cliche interaction. "I did nothing to build that relationship," Sellas said.

An example of a fact disclosure would be someone commenting on the weather: "It's raining outside."

The level of disclosure in this conversation would deepen if the other person responded with opinions and feelings. Perhaps the person would say, "I don't like rain," which is an opinion. Maybe the person would also say, "Rain is depressing," which is a feeling.

"Feelings are obviously the deepest disclosures that we can get to -- feelings are where we actually build trust and relationships," Sellas said. "If we want to ease consumer distrust, we have to use more emotion in our content marketing."

Creating controversy

Meanwhile, controversy can create a post that spurs high engagement.

Sellas showed a florist's post on a popular social media platform consisting of a photo of carnations, which the florist called "gorge," short for gorgeous, with the hashtag "#unpopularopinion." It was an opinion disclosure.

Photo of Brooke Sellas presenting on stage at HubSpot Inbound.
B Squared Media CEO Brooke Sellas speaks on social media marketing strategies at HubSpot Inbound in Boston on Sept. 7.

The post spurred many other opinionated comments about carnations. Sellas presented a hypothetical scenario: If 86 out of 100 commenters said they love carnations, the florist could then create a special sale for carnations, which might lead to customer conversions.

"What's happening for [the florist] in that conversation is that they're collecting most of the customer data," Sellas said.

Sellas also gave examples of B2B companies using controversy in their social media content. She presented a post on LinkedIn from the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions account that said, "Controversy: an effective marketing technique or a risk not worth taking? Share your thoughts." Many people responded.

"This is voice of customer data," Sellas said. "If most of the people responding said, 'Controversy is a good thing to use in the marketing,' they can then come up with a post about using controversy in your marketing," Sellas said.

A place to be more personal

One session attendee, Kristen Appel, global director of marketing for mystery shopping firm Bare International, said she's noticed that creating separate messaging strategies for B2C and B2B companies is unnecessary, and she found that encouraging.

"We're not really doing B2C and B2B anymore," Appel said in an interview. "It's really connecting all audiences. Everyone's a human behind social media, so everyone just craves those connections."

Appel said she appreciates that building a customer base does not always require a serious professional tone or communication style. Rather, a casual, relatable one can be more effective.

"Everyone is looking for something to help them in their lives and their businesses, and social [media] is really one of the key ways that we can make that happen on a seemingly more personal basis," Appel said.

Mary Reines is a news writer covering customer experience and unified communications for TechTarget Editorial. Before TechTarget, Reines was arts editor at the Marblehead Reporter.

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