Yesterday we learned an important lesson about the power of social networking to help you align with your target market. It was delivered, curiously enough, not through facebook or twitter but through an email campaign. Here is what happened…
We had just returned from a few days camping at Sequoia National Park. It was a wonderful time sleeping and playing amongst the ancient Sequoia trees and mountain streams – we were feeling great about life and excited that it was July 4th.
When you come from another country and make a conscious choice to become a U.S. citizen (as we did) I think it means that you have an awareness of the uniqueness of America – in a way that you might not necessarily have if you grew up here. I don’t know that for sure – it’s just a guess. In any case, we value the underlying fabric of America – there is something alive and palpable here even if it is often shrouded in problems and challenges! (show me somewhere that isn’t!)
In this spirit of jubilation we sent out a Happy 4th July email message to our email readers. We mentioned the wonderful experience we had camping, expressed enthusiasm about July 4th and the values and spirit that America was built on, and wished everyone and their loved ones a happy 4th. There was no attempt to sell or make special offers because that wasn’t the point – it was a sincere message based on a desire to express what we felt and connect with our readers.
A few hours later I checked my email and saw something that surprised me. I was very happy to see that we had received very happy and generous replies from several of our readers. They had appreciated the message and sent replies of celebration. But that wasn’t what surprised me. What got my attention was that I also saw that several people had unsubscribed from our email list.
We have a pretty good relationship with the readers on our email list and we don’t get a lot of unsubscribes. Sometimes people just opt out after a time because they’ve got everything they wanted. On a rare occasion a reader will unsubscribe when we send out an email that includes a discount or a promotion. That I understand. This was different though because it was a personal message.
I thought that maybe the people who had unsubscribed were from other countries – that maybe they had been offended by our enthusiasm about the U.S. Upon investigation though, it turned out that with one exception (a Canadian) all the unsubscribes were from America and our most lovely reply was from an artist in India. Exactly the opposite!
I’m still thinking through what this all means. I spoke with a friend who is very current in Online Marketing trends and she suggested that possibly readers had thought the email was too personal or too political. People sign up to receive specific information from you she thought – not personal communications and political viewpoints.
I can understand that point in principle – but is it political to express enthusiasm about your country on a day of national celebration? I really struggle with that concept as I wasn’t endorsing any person or political party. I am aware of many of the deficiencies and challenges in the U.S. – which we tend to focus on for about 364 days each year! But that doesn’t change the fact that there is a lot of good here too that we can celebrate on one day.
The whole concept of being too personal is a challenge for me too. Isn’t that what 21st century business is evolving towards with social networking? Aren’t we aligning our businesses based on having real relationships with our customers and clients where we are open about our values?
Or did I get that wrong?
Our experience with our business over the last 5 years has been that our best customers are the ones who share similar values. That doesn’t mean that we agree on everything but we form relationships that are more than just pure business. That makes it more enjoyable and productive for clients and for us.
A traditional marketing viewpoint might say that by sending out our email we had risked losing potential business by somehow offending readers. A different viewpoint might be that the few people who unsubscribed might not have been great clients for us anyway because our values were different and that trimming our list a little was actually a very good thing. This is the view I prefer as I continue to think this through – but I might be wrong!
It might be different if we were selling clothes pegs or DVD players, but in a service-based business where you work hand in hand with clients, having good relationships is essential. That doesn’t mean agreeing on everything, it just means being respectful of each others viewpoints.
Shared values is something I think about a lot with business. Quite a few years ago I studied Electrical Engineering (very different form of “art”!) and there is a theorem for transformers called the “Maximum Power Transfer Theorem“. What it says, in a nutshell, is that you get the maximum power transfer through the transformer when both sides have the same impedance (electrical resistance). In more recent years I’ve seen how this principle applies throughout all of life. In business it means that you get the best productivity and the best results when the client and the business share similar values.
So, what does all this have to do with Social Networking and targeting your art market? Facebook and Twitter (and email to some extent) give you the chance to connect with like-minded buyers, patrons, business partners, and fellow artists in a way that was only possible in local communities before. There is a very good chance that you can build real relationships that lead to sales. But here is the key:
Be yourself, share your values, share your passion. Be respectful of other people’s viewpoints but don’t modify yourself. Say what is true for you with your voice and your paintbrush. Do it in your local community, do it on facebook and twitter, do it with your email list. For sure, some people will drop away, but they’ll be replaced by others who are more likely to “get” you and your work.
Pruning a plant is essential for strong growth, so don’t be afraid to prune your list, your followers, and your fans by being authentic.
Your honest comments and opinions on this topic are very welcome and gratefully received.