The Real Purpose of Social Media Marketing That Few People Seem to Understand

Social media marketing can be the biggest waste of money.

In fact, if you own or work for a new-ish business — or a business with a social media presence that isn’t generating real, bottom-line results — there’s a decent-to-good chance I wouldn’t recommend using social media unless you’re willing and able to buy in (literally and figuratively) to the process it takes to generate real, bottom-line results, as defined by:

  • Exposure: More relevant people become aware of your business via social media.
  • Engagement: These people connect with your business on social media, which begins a sales process that creates awareness, added value and trust.
  • Customer Acquisition & Retention: By developing more awareness, added value and trust, you’ll increase customer lifetime value and generate more word-of-mouth.

The fact of the matter is that most businesses are NOT generating real, bottom-line results via social media because they’ve taken the “let’s jump into the pool and then figure out how to swim” approach. They forewent the steps of learning how to swim, and then figuring out where to jump from, let alone just getting their feet wet.

With that said, let’s take a few steps back from the deep-end and begin to understand the overarching purpose of social media marketing, so you can put yourself in a position generate those real, bottom-line results.

The overarching purpose of social media marketing is to create relevance and value in your target audience’s lives before they need or want what you’re selling. (As a general rule: The higher your price point, or the more decisions people need to make before buying what you’re selling, the more time and effort it takes to create relevance and value.)

As a result, your ability to consistently create relevance and value in your target audience’s lives before they need or want what you’re selling will:

  1. More effectively influence and expedite the purchasing process involved with your product and/or service
  2. Increase the frequency with which your current customers make purchases (also known as increasing lifetime customer value) and
  3. Increase the amount of people and frequency with which these people recommend your business to relevant folks in their social circles (also known as word-of-mouth)

Creating relevance and value comes down to two of the five cornerstones of social media marketing: (1) content marketing and (2) customer service/experiences.

A few months ago I wrote a column about providing customer service/experiences using social media, so today I want to focus on the content marketing portion of creating relevance and value.

Let’s start with relevance.

In order to create relevance, you first need to identify your target audience’s psychographics — in other words, their:

  • Personality Traits: who they are or want to be
  • Mentalities: their attitude and beliefs
  • Pleasures: things they enjoy
  • Insecurities: things they aren’t sure about based on lack of information and/or experience, misinformation, or incomplete information

Here’s an example: I was recently approached by a company in China that provides short-term educational programs for native English speakers from Western countries. In analyzing their target audience’s psychographics, my team and I came up with this breakdown (which I’ve simplified for you):

  • Personality Traits: They are adventurous, experience-seekers, travelers, and either formal or informal educators / social workers (or aspiring educators / social workers).
  • Mentality: They think travel, education, new experiences, and giving back are important and/or worthwhile.
  • Pleasures: They enjoy traveling, educating / social work, new experiences, and perhaps they have always wanted to live abroad (or they have already lived abroad and want another opportunity to do so).
  • Insecurities: They are hesitant for a variety of reasons to live and work in China, or to put their current life on hold, or to come to China without knowing the language. (The best way to analyze your target audience’s insecurities is to list the most asked questions people have about your business, product, service, industry, etc.)

(Of course, every person in your target audience won’t fit your entire psychographic analysis — the key is to determine the most prevalent and/or overlapping psychographics, and focus on targeting those.)

Now, the value portion.

The recipe for adding value to your target audience’s lives is to create, curate and ultimately serve them content that is (1) not imposing, annoying, promotional, self-serving or sales-y; and (2) in line with their psychographics.

Value comes in two forms: practical value (content that makes people more knowledgeable, productive, educated, informed, studious, etc) and emotional value (content that makes people feel a certain something — motivated, smart, sexy, inspired, involved, adventurous, happy, fulfilled, etc).

Using the example of the psychographics I outlined for the target audience of the company above, we can start to brainstorm relevant and valuable content that will, in this case, more effectively and efficiently expedite and influence people’s decision to participate in one of their programs.

Here are a few examples off the top of my head:

  • A blog post titled: 10 Chinese Words You Need to Know Before Coming to China (provides practical value that speaks to their insecurities about not knowing Chinese)
  • A blog post titled: The Definitive Guide to Exploring China in Three Months (provides both practical and emotional value that speaks to their adventurous, experience-seeking, traveler traits and pleasures)
  • A blog post titled: 10 Reasons China is the Most Rewarding Place to Teach English (provides emotional value that speaks to the pleasure they get from education / social work, living abroad and giving back)

Certainly the process of consistently serving your target audience relevant and valuable content requires a significant investment of time, effort and money.

I’m not here to tell you that you should or shouldn’t make that investment; that’s a decision you need to evaluate according to the resources at your disposal and alternative means of generating more customers, higher lifetime customer value and additional word-of-mouth.

However, if you’re not serving your target audience content that develops relevance and value in their lives, frankly you’re wasting time, energy and money in social media marketing.


Josh Hoffman (better known as Social Media Josh) is an international social media consultant, instructor and speaker, as well as the creator of The Social Media Freelancer. Connect with Josh on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, and sign up to receive his weekly column.