Why is social media marketing so different from other types of marketing? It’s right there in the name: social media is about making social connections. Of course we want to make connections with our patients and clients, but as many of us have learned over the last decade or so, it’s not as simple as just setting up an attractive Facebook page and sharing a few funny or informative posts. Social media marketing takes your business right into the hands and home of your target audience. Your posts appear next to pictures of their family and personal posts from friends, and there’s suddenly an open channel of communication from you to the person on their couch. As marketers, how do we make sense of this?

Cultivating Relationships

First let’s understand that social media is interactive by nature and works by cultivating relationships rather than simply spreading brand or information awareness. Even the special names of these connections tell a different story; while you may have a mailing list for your direct mail pieces or email, your Facebook connections are “friends” who “like” and “follow” you. Social media thrives on user-generated content that people willingly share with hundreds and even thousands of others. Replies, retweets, and comments become large conversations covering so many viewpoints, and even small back-and-forth interactions can build on each other. These conversations may not always be productive ones, but they are person to person, quite different than a commercial blaring from the radio or TV.

The Bygones of Broadcast

Speaking of broadcast media, when radio and TV marketing channels became ubiquitous they were groundbreaking because they allowed marketers to reach the masses. There’s nothing quite like a Superbowl commercial to get people talking and thinking about your product or solution, right? The downfall of broadcast, though, is it’s inevitably a one-way conversation. In contrast, the amazing thing about social marketing is that it provides a unique opportunity to reach a large audience while inviting patients and clients right into the conversation via likes, comments, and shares.

Socially Speaking, Not Selling

Selling is a little bit more tricky here, and from the marketer’s standpoint social media marketing requires a different approach. Your strategy here may not always be a call to action or scale to buy. Since you are cultivating a relationship with a patient or client rather than spurring her to buy, this sphere goes far beyond trying to get a sale. Sales may need to sit on the back burner while you simply build trust and form a brand personality. Remember they are coming to social platforms for a social fix, not to shop. If they click through your link and add to cart, all the better, but you can’t simply set up your wares and hope for the best. Humans are good at detecting a fake interaction and if you’re not offering any information or entertainment value, you’ll likely be ignored or unfollowed.

The Infinite Possibilities of Interaction

Perhaps a better way to approach this is to think of your social media presence as a friendly information booth, almost a door greeter ready for a welcome little hello and directions. Take note, for users, social media is quickly becoming the fastest way to get a response from businesses because it is so visible to others. When a dissatisfied client posts on your page, all who follow or click to your page can see! Take the time to turn these complaints into opportunities and your visitors will likely be more impressed by your reply than by the unhappy comments.

Set Realistic Goals

Realistically, social media works toward different goals than traditional marketing. Some brands use social media marketing simply as an SEO (search engine optimization) tool since social media sites quickly appear in searches. Some use the space as a phonebook entry, a way to collect data, or to build an email file, or as an information stream. The most important value that social media provides is the opportunity to build relationships with your patients and clients. Learning how to leverage this for success can take time, patience, and hard work, but the results are a community of people who care about what you have to say and value your services.

The takeaway: Social media is a different animal for marketers, a newer, ever-changing tool that requires approaches based on goals that take social interaction into consideration. The power to reach many and form closer relationships is a huge opportunity, so do some brainstorming. How do you use social media? What do you like to see in your feed? How could a brand reach you while you sip your wine on the couch tonight?