Listen To This: Stories We’re Telling Ourselves, inspired by The Beancast

February 13, 2015

By Matt Hollowell

I am an avid listener of The Beancast, so I’m excited

that this week’s “Listen To This” post is inspired by Bob Knorpp and his guests (Winston Binch, Scott Monty, and George Parker). Per usual, the entire episode is worth a listen, especially for the digital marketing and advertising crowd. This year’s analysis on the analysis surrounding the Super Bowl is funny, honest, and on-point. Definitely check it out.

For this post, the ah-hah moment came about 37 minutes in, when talk of the industry echo chamber briefly surfaced. It was a moment that spotlighted storytelling. What kind of storytelling? The bad kind. The self-deceiving kind. The kind that oftentimes doesn’t seem like storytelling at all.

But first, a bit of context.

“That’s just a story you are telling yourself” is a phrase often heard around SME Digital. Generally, it means that we’re calling into question what someone puts forth as truth. And by calling it into question, we’re essentially calling BS. It’s well illustrated in Nichole’s recent post:

The first step is to recognize stories like this for what they are: stories. They are the things we tell ourselves to talk us into or out of something. They don’t represent reality.

What was called into question on this week’s Beancast? The story that consumers tune into the Super Bowl to watch the ads. We are certainly fed this story over and over, and those who shelled out the $4.5MM per spot definitely believe it, but is it true? We’ll have to wait for all of the ROI data and analytics to find out, but as Winston Binch points out, “[The polar bear thing a couple of years ago] got a lot of attention in the industry, but I don’t know how much consumers were really talking about it.” Enter the echo chamber. The industry believes and propagates a story around their efforts, but are we willing to ask for the truth?

This discussion of stories and truths brings up a related question: What stories are we, as social marketers, telling ourselves? Surely more than we have time for here, but here are three. There are more. Likely, lots more. I’m going to hit these three and then open the floor. The comments section and our social channels are yours.

Story #1: Our Audience Likes Us

It’s easy to blame Facebook for this prevalent misconception. Much virtual ink has been spilled over “fans” and “likes” and such, and though many argue that the terminology is moot, the idea of “like” still triggers an emotion. And how about the “unlike”? Community managers can claim all they want that likes don’t matter, but those unlikes…they still sting, right?

Now, if you like the Social Media Explorer Facebook Page, I am truly thankful. But I have to wonder whether “like” is in any way accurate. Are you interested? Do you want to hear from us? Do you dig our content? Awesome. But do you truly like us? I’d love to believe so, but I know that’s just a story.

Yet brands continue to tell themselves this story.

Truth time: Consumers don’t like your brand. They might like what you offer; they might like some of your products; they might even like what you stand for. But the like button is click just slightly above apathy, and apathy isn’t worth, well, anything. It’s meh. It’s whatevs.

I argued in a previous post that we should tell our audiences to love-me-or-leave-me. In other words, choose to Get Notifications (love) or walk away (leave). Anything else is just skewing the numbers and basically pointless.

But to a lot of brands, “likes” really do matter. As long as that number goes up and to the right on the dashboard, everything is working as it should. And that’s BS. Quit telling yourself that your audience likes you, and start the hard work of creating love. Otherwise, that >1% engagement rate that you are fretting about will continue to be a data point that you gloss over, hoping no one notices.

Tell yourself the true story: Your audience does not like your brand, nor will they ever. Likes don’t matter; love matters. Loyalty matters. Advocacy matters. Start measuring that. Yes, it’s scary and uncomfortable, but until you face the truth, you will continue to walk a fool’s path.

Ignore your fans; focus on your advocates. Those who love you are worth more than your other 99%. Every time.

Story #2 Our Audience Wants To Hear From Us

Really? I can’t remember the last time I wanted to hear from a brand. Seriously. You? Brands are not my friend; brands are not my family; brands fill a need at a time, and when that times comes, I will actively seek them out.

However, brands do everything in their power to sneak their message into every social feed possible. We pay Social to push our brand updates into streams. So, if we are paying to be heard by the herd, how can we believe that our voice is sought after, longed for, or even slightly wanted?

Essentially, brands are sneaking around trying to kick down the door in social while telling themselves that there is no sneaking and that there is no door. Hmmm.

The truth is so much simpler (and yes, there’s an echo in here). Ignore your likers and ignore the strangers. Focus on those who love your brand, what you offer, and what you stand for. Those people, your advocates, those people are your marketing.

Bottom line: Your audience doesn’t want to hear from the logo; they want to hear from their peers. Give those who love you something to scream about and give your social ad budget the day off.

Sure, paying to be heard is easy. And yes, nurturing and growing love is hard. But spread WOW and let your true fans do the talking. Turns out, your audience actually wants to hear from them.

Story #3 Our Audience Is, Well, Ours

Turns out, Social is not a zero sum game. There is no Pepsi challenge. There is no picking sides.

Here’s a quick test for you. Take 15 seconds and name all of the Facebook Pages that you like. Now do the same for corporate Twitter accounts. Seriously.

When I did this exercise, I came up with 10; 10 Facebook Pages that I could name without peeking (and two of them are my own). The reality: 256. How did you do? (Find out here: My guess…you forgot a lot of them.

Brands and consumers sit on two different sides of the same computer screen. And we’re looking in totally different places. Brands look at their big number: 500 likes, 5000 likes, 50000 likes; normal Facebook users look at their friends’ baby pictures, their family’s daily updates, and they do a lot of Happy-Birthdaying. Brands focus their time and energy on themselves while consumers focus on everyone else.

On the brand side, we believe what we are saying and doing is important, and we believe that our fanbase is paying attention. Truth? It’s highly likely that the vast majority of our “fans” don’t even remember clicking that like button.

Our audience is not ours. Sure, we might be a part of their audience, but it’s likely that we’re not. Honestly, it’s likely that we’ve been forgotten. And that’s the story that we must accept.

How do we address this kinda sad story? How do we rectify our trees falling in the woods with no one around? See suggestion and echo above. Ignore your audience, and focus on your advocates. Because those advocates…they have a stronger audience than we ever will. And their audience is true.

Your Story

Umm…yah…got a little bit ranty there. Apologies. But now it’s your turn. What stories do you think we tell ourselves? Better yet, what story do you tell yourself? I’m telling myself that you are the only reader who made it this far, so many thanks for sticking with me! Now, you take the mic. I’ll be listening.

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