Picture of Blackboard social media schedule

People are more likely to buy from ‘friends’ than they are salespeople.

Is social media marketing getting harder? If you ask any of the thousands of companies attempting to promote their products or services online, they’d likely say yes. Ask my company, even. We’ve undoubtedly said the same thing a time or two, or at least we used to until we found out we were wrong.

Here’s the truth: social media marketing isn’t getting harder, it’s just getting more competitive. As marketers, it’s our responsibility to adjust our strategy and compensate for the ad-saturated online space. We need to identify and execute the correct adjustments as consumers change what they look for in an online brand.

Lucky for digital marketers everywhere, online consumers are not shy about their current preferences. They don’t want to be online marketing bystanders. They want involvement, interaction, and interest.  At least 26 percent of online consumers want to be entertained by your content. With demands like that, it’s imperative that we stop marketing and start entertaining if we’re going to be successful.

1.  Sales are not trending.

It’s no secret that modern consumers don’t want to be sold. Not in the traditional sense of the word. They’ve learned to recognize conventional sales methods and have prepared elaborate defenses against them. Gone are the days when pushy, overbearing and in-your-face tactics were the best way to ensure that your brand secured valuable consumer brainspace.

Do you think Apple would be as successful as it is today if it marketed the iPhone the same way attorneys market legal services? No. The company got to be where it is because it took the time to understand its audience. Apple knows exactly what its audience wants and exactly the way the audience wants it. Spoiler alert: it’s not being a boring sales advert.

2.  It’s more important to be interesting than informative.

A 2015 study conducted by digital ad agency Moosylvania found that “entertainment as a reason to connect transcends all others when it comes to consumer validation.” The company surveyed nearly 3,500 consumers born between 1980 and 2002 in an effort to identify which brands were favorites and what it is that got them there. As it turns out, becoming a preferred brand isn’t all that difficult.

Customers want their social media feeds to consist of no more than 10 percent branded content, and yet 30 percent of those same individuals are willing to share branded content as long as they like it. What makes them like it? Interest and engagement. The content we share should appeal to the user in a relatable way. The format doesn’t matter, although it helps if users have an opportunity to interact with it.

At my company, we’ve been experimenting with software that uses data from our target market to curate content that best matches the interests of potential clients. Instead of sharing flashy ads or boring articles specifically related to the legal system, the software shares content that aligns with the interests of the demographic group most likely to need post-arrest assistance in the future. The program essentially allows us to widen the entry point of our sales funnel.

Here’s another example. If we sell Jeeps and we create content specifically for people actively searching for a Jeep, our target market is very small and we’re actively competing with hundreds of other Jeep retailers. But what if we knew that a large percentage of Jeep drivers enjoy adventure and road trips? By sharing content focused on those particular topics, our target market automatically increases. Adventure and road trips aren’t exclusive to the Jeep community so we don’t come off as sales-y, but our brand builds recognition among the social media users that are most likely to want a Jeep in the future.

Building a social media relationship based on consumer interests instead of products or services helps ensure that, when it comes time to buy, potential customers think of our brand first.

3.  Internet jail is real.

Anyone that has dabbled in the world of direct marketing or social media sales has probably encountered internet jail. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s when a social platform blocks content because it’s too sales-y.

Large brands are usually exempt thanks to extensive marketing budgets and paid advertising campaigns, but small to midsize companies often risk internet imprisonment if we don’t approach social media marketing carefully. Add to that the ever-expanding selection of ad blockers and an increasingly savvy internet user and all of a sudden it’s a miracle if our branded content ever makes it in front of the right audience.

Social media users are selfish. They only want to see the things they care about—and who can blame them? But social media platforms recognize this selfishness and are consistently coming up with new ways to meet the needs of a self-indulgent user pool. We can now report unwanted content with the click of a button and hide posts from specific users—the idea being that if we don’t want to see it, we don’t have to see it. As a brand with an end goal, it’s our job to make users want to see it.

Switching from marketing content to interesting content helps us get around the messaging police. If we are sharing content designed to entertain rather than sell, it’s less likely that ad-blocking software will flag our brand. If the content is entertaining and interesting, it’s less likely that human users will report or hide our posts.

People don’t connect with marketers. They interact with interesting and engage with entertaining. People connect with what matters to them. So our best bet as marketers isn’t to wait until our product or service becomes relevant to our potential clients—it’s to build an interesting and entertaining relationship with our potential clients before our product or service is needed.