The only thing that there is a limited amount of in our new digital world is physical presence, face-to-face time. Over the last 10 years most of us have spent more and more time ‘virtually’ socializing through social networks. But before we had to physically socialize. We used phone books and then Google and search engines to find people but we still had to see them to spend time with them. Oh sure, there was snail mail for ‘virtual’ conversations, but most of our communication and interaction was in the physical world.
Social networks came along with tons of new tools and toys. Those of us with the need to connect with large numbers of people – our fans or customers – gradually stopped gathering email addresses and started using fan walls or pages to communicate. No more big databases or mailing lists to maintain. Someone else did it all for us. So we added their logos to our television broadcasts, our newspapers and magazines, our websites, our tickets, our record album covers. We used all of the slightly older fashioned methods of communication to drive our customers and fans to these new digital playgrounds where they could “engage” in “conversations” with us – the brands, bands and businesses. Little did we know or suspect – we were not only losing touch with those who created our success (fans and customers) by losing direct access to them (their postal and email addresses) but we were also reducing the time we actually spent with them, therefore losing our connection.
Countless studies have been done about the increasing feelings of isolation that people are having as a result of spending so much time in these virtual conversations with people they do not and have never had any physical interaction with. But that is the subject of another blog post.
Bands, businesses and brands now have millions of virtual fans on these social media channels – people they will never see or hear, or hear from. I’ve already written a lot about the fact that they can’t even reach their fans anymore with their posts or tweets. Of course you can pay to advertise on these social networks. Facebook, Twitter and the others would be thrilled to take your money to reach your own customers and fans. But I doubt most of you would want to pay, or at least not for every post. Then there is the question of whether paying would even guarantee you reach your audience (read recent admissions by Google that only 50% of people see ads that were paid for!). And let’s not forget about the fake followers you would also have to pay to reach (Instagram just wiped out one third of their users because they were fake. Not sure FB or Twitter will do this any time soon).
I’m not saying that these networks are going away any time soon. But they have clearly completely changed the rules. They are not serving your best interests; they are serving their own. Your fans now have to search for you on their favorite social networks just like they do on Google. It’s now lean forward rather than lean back world. Before you (or your brand) appeared in the feeds of people who Liked your page or Followed you (lean back). But now they have to make a bigger effort to find you (lean forward), to search for your page or tweets. But will they?
And what do you do now?
How did you get your fans or customers in the first place, the real ones (not the ones you purchased in order to big yourself up!)? You met them in person. You performed for them. You served them in your shop, store or restaurant. You met them at a friend’s house or a café. There was an interaction in a physical place. And even if you are a rock star or champion athlete, you saw your audience from a stadium or stage, and they saw you – the physical you. And if you’re really honest, this is what people are willing to pay for, which is why you haven’t earned any money from Facebook or Twitter (or fill in the name of any other social network).
Being social has always been about being with people. And people don’t live in the ether, on social networks or on the Internet although they spend time there. People are on the streets, in their houses, restaurants, shops, stadiums, dinner parties, and concerts. What this means is that you have to be there with them if you want any real communication, to interact with them, or to feel them. And this is even more the case if you want them to spend money on something that can easily be digitized (music, video, books).
I’m not suggesting people give up social networks altogether. I’m proposing that we (re)create our own private social networks, ones that bridge the physical and digital world. This will put us back in the driver’s seat with our customers or fans. I am also suggesting that one of the most effective ways to cultivate and harvest your customers and fans (most of whom now seem to belong to these 3rd parties, the networks) is to go back to basics and the way we humans have always interacted with each other – in person. This is our back to the future moment. Physical is truly the new digital because without physical, digital communication is only virtual (like millions of Facebook fans).