Walking down Main Street in Mt. Airy, N.C., I feel like I’ve stepped into a 1960s sitcom. Mt. Airy, the boyhood home of Andy Griffith, was the inspiration for his television home town of Mayberry. As I stroll by Floyd’s Barber Shop, I peek inside and notice that all the chairs are full. Not the barber chairs, but the waiting chairs against the wall. Those seated are engaged in animated conversation, and a crowd has gathered to listen to the dialogue.
This is a common sight here in the Blue Ridge Mountains: Residents gathered in a local store to visit and gossip. Sociologists call such gathering spots a “Third Place.” A Third Place is a social venue which is separate from Home and Work that fosters broader communication between participants and builds a sense of belonging and community.
In his 1989 book “The Great Good Place,” author Ray Oldenburg asserts that a good Third Place is accessible, comfortable, nearby, involves regulars, and is open to both new and old friends.
Sounds like Facebook to me.
Facebook’s growth has been explosive, and it’s no wonder. Social meeting places are vital to all communities. Americans lead “too-busy” lives. We spend more time at work than citizens of other developed countries, take fewer vacations, and try to cram every minute of “family time” with sports teams, scouts, karate lessons, music lessons, swimming lessons — well, you get the picture. Facebook is as near as our computer, open to new and old friends, and we don’t have to leave the comfort of our home to participate. It’s an ideal Third Place.
Absent from the description of a Third Place is “exchanging advertising messages.” Imagine that you’re with a group that’s chatting at Floyd’s Barber Shop when a man walks in, interrupts your conversation, hands you a business card that says “Insurance R Us” and attempts to sell you life insurance. Would you stay to listen or would you politely excuse yourself? How about your friends? Would they stay? Of course not; commercial activity, when done to excess, spoils a Third Place. No one likes it, and participants develop an aversion to the offending member.
Yet, the above scenario is repeated regularly on Facebook. Marketing Gurus everywhere insist that businesses MUST get involved in Social Media Marketing. Many business owners hear the word “marketing” but not the word “social.” So, they slap up a Facebook fan page, fanatically market their wares, and soon discover that that they aren’t driving traffic to their websites or getting new customers. The reason is that they’ve alienated their readers.
Winston Churchill aptly described such attempts at social marketing when he said: “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”
Facebook is not an eBay store; it’s a Third Place.
“That’s why they call it social media,” says Leslie Coty, Social Media Strategist and President of Coty Connections. “Social Media is a game-changer; it’s changed the way we communicate, and it’s changed the way that we do business.” Coty should know about the “changing game”; she spent more than two decades in traditional media sales: print, radio, and television. “The marketplace has become overcrowded with competing advertising messages,” she says. “Consumers have developed a resistance to traditional advertising, and sales messages aren’t getting through.”
What consumers want, according to Coty, is to trust the person they will be buying from. Trust implies a relationship; consumers want to buy from people, not faceless corporations. Where corporations are involved in commercial transactions, consumers want to deal face-to-face with someone they have built a relationship with. Relationships are built one at a time, not mass produced.
How then, can an antiques dealer use social media to build relationships with new customers? Coty offers dealers five tips on how this can be accomplished:
Use Facebook ads. Facebook can target an audience better than traditional media ever could. Advertisers can target by age, interests, location, education, connections, and more. Would you like your ad to appear on the home page of thirty-somethings who live in your city, and have an interest in model trains? Facebook can do that.
I’d like to add two more items to Ms. Coty’s list:
If there’s a key to Social Media Marketing, it’s this: Relationships are first, selling is second.
Previously published in Antique Trader Magazine