Pug with angel pug and devil pug in thought bubbles

The blessing and the curse of social media evolution for pet brands (PART 1)

This is the first part in a series about the evolution of social media and its impact on marketing communications. Today, we’ll talk about the demands of the social media audience and how that can work to our advantage in the pet health biz.

Social media, like any living, breathing organism, is constantly evolving. Think bacteria bubbling at the bottom of a deep ocean: once social was a narrow-use personal tool for sharing baby pics or cat memes (before they were even memes! Remember LOLCats?) with your weird aunt Nelly.

Now the bacteria have grown feet, sprouted wings, built skyscrapers and gone to space – those tools have evolved into something businesses can exploit for distributing messages. Millions of years of evolution in a decade and a half.

What began with MySpace has spawned Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, SnapChat and Instagram. And that’s just the first page of our phone menu. Personal users now have dozens of ways to share their hyper-filtered photographs, 5-second videos, reaction GIFs and, yeah, cat memes. Always with the cat memes.

For pet care brands, the evolution of social media is even more complicated and (usually) exciting. We have so many ways to reach people who care a lot about animals. Too many ways to reach our audiences! But the audiences, they are a-listening, and they’re using social media to do it. According to Pew Research Center, 68 percent of American adults use Facebook; 28 percent use Instagram; 25 percent use LinkedIn; and 21 percent are on Twitter. Globally, there were 2.34 billion social media users in 2016; this is projected to reached 3.02 billion by 2021.

If your brand is on social media, there are lots of eyeballs on you. But as social media evolves, so do our audiences’ needs. The people can find a social media channel that caters to their very specific needs. But they also expect companies on that channel to do the same. It’s a blessing and a curse for marketers.

The curse

The curse is that viewers expect more from us. They’re no longer willing to watch a commercial on TV, make their own decision to drive to the store, and buy your blender. Those one-sided days are over. Customers expect brands to not only interact with them but to interact immediately.  They want instant customer service, and they want it brought to them.

Twitter, for instance, has replaced the in-store customer-service counter and the 1-800 number almost overnight. Customer service interactions on Twitter have increased 250 percent since 2015, and the cost per resolution via Twitter is 17 percent that of a typical call centers. Additionally, 32 percent of those who use social media to contact a brand’s customer support expect a response within 30 minutes. An additional 42 percent want answers inside an hour.

The days of waiting for the next available representative are quickly getting long in the tooth.

The blessing

But now the good news. If the audience is demanding your attention, it means they’re listening. And that means you have ample opportunity to build relationships. Suddenly, you’re on the same footing as the Aunt Nellys of the world; the disconnect of social media’s 1s and 0s means that you’re the same distance away as friends and family. The chance to cozy up to your customers has never been easier to take.

Build trust, use trust

And if you’re in the pet health business, well, cat memes basically started the Internet. You’d be crazy to not use that to your advantage. If you interact with your customers in the way they insist that you do, you can easily establish your brand as the resource they need. Become the Twitter feed that they go to for answers, and they’ll trust you. And that trust will evolve into purchases of your products and services.  No one ever questioned Aunt Nelly’s lemon cakes, y’know?

Now that they trust you, use the door in the other direction. Trust them. Give them content to share/like/emoji at/comment upon/etc. Even if someone is only hitting the LIKE button, other people can see that they hit that LIKE button – and your reach gets longer. But remember, you have to produce content that will connect. Make your brand seem human; people can sniff out blatant marketing ploys and, more and more, it will turn them off.  But humanize your brand? Make your audience identify with you and your love of pets? There’s the sweet spot. If they trust, they’ll be loyal.

Give it to them and they’ll give it back

If the audience trusts you, they’ll be likely to do what you want them to do and go where you want them to go. You’re now the resource; they’ll use you as such. And you should use this to your advantage. Share your blog posts, infographics, videos, employee highlights, product spotlights – anything that you want dispersed into the atmosphere. Your audience will appreciate the fact that you’re giving them useful and/or entertaining content and they’ll do your work for you.

Here’s the kicker: once a customer is a loyalist, they’ll have your back. If they’ve been sharing and interacting with your content, they’re more likely to come to your defense during times of crisis. It’s much better to have John Q. Public on your side if you have an accident or product recall or stock market hit or other crisis. Your brand lovers will rally and take on the haters. Just look at any comment section, message board or Twitter thread for evidence.

Social media is no longer a single-celled organism. It’s evolved into a many-tendrilled beast. And if you can tame that beast, you can evolve your brand.

Coming in part 2: Social media and collecting insights