Healthy alternatives to social media marketing

As digital town squares fall apart, you need tools that provide context and focus for your marketing efforts.

A real town square is a calm, functional place where we go about our daily business

It’s apparent to all of us now that an open mic approach to online news reporting and discussion is rapidly losing its effectiveness, especially for marketers. We know this simply by thinking about our own personal reasons for logging into Twitter or Instagram. It’s certainly not to find news, products, services or support campaigns we care about. If we are really honest, we’re looking for an argument at best or a fight at worst, which is not our fault. The darker aspects of human psychology have been exploited, ironically by advertisers. From its friendly beginnings, social media rapidly became a cheap, scatter-gun approach to marketing for small businesses and freelancers. Though in reality, it’s always the big brands who pay for promoted posts that grab the spoils. The final nail that we can add is toxicity, a dark place where nothing good happens.

We should not be shy about marketing, all business needs exposure. Even our customers, patrons or supporters get this. How we do day-to-day business online is slowly moving away from social media, as many of us detoxify ourselves from the addiction to memes and discourse. The digital space is becoming more formal and functional, a tool to assist us in the physical world, not dominate it. We can certainly utilise the power and convenience of digital right now to promote our business, without getting caught in the hurricane of tabloid-style social media discourse. There are more effective ways to do business online.

There are many tools to help you create focused, themed networks of contributors. It’s easy to start a Slack channel, simply by inviting existing customers, colleagues or friends. Once you launch a modest network, others will join and soon you have a thriving ecosystem built around your brand. A focused user network will be a mix of competing businesses or potential customers. But at least everyone is discussing a common interest. If you are a freelancer then it’s more useful to join other networks than start your own. As a web designer, it’s useful for me to interact with tech industry people who might be looking to hire.

I have worked with big charities in the UK and many run their own forums, open to members, donors or those that need support. Discussions are constructive and focused on specific issues. And, yes, there is always a minority who might resort to abuse, but at least moderation is easier to control when it’s your network. Smaller online communities tend to police themselves and root out bad actors. Networks can be any size, from thousands of members to a few hundred. As contributors you need to adhere to house rules and refrain from overtly advertising yourself too much. Digital marketing is a conversation in itself and not one-way traffic. Potential customers know when they are ready to buy or hire. If your marketing approach is friendly, unobtrusive and articulate then you will find success.

If you run a local business, then WhatsApp is ideal for building a niche network of clients. Discord servers have capacity to run extensive social groups of people with common interests or hobbies. For example games, music or photography. For really effective digital marketing, businesses must relate to people’s leisure activities. After all, much of what we buy online is for pleasure.

Another issue with social media mainstays like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram is on-screen visual distractions. This bug affects both marketers and consumers. How many times have we logged into say, Facebook, and then quickly forgot what day it was, let alone our goal? Soon we have disappeared in the rabbit hole of endless scroll. That is no accident and platforms like LinkedIn are equally bad at wasting our time on purpose to keep us logged in and distracted by promoted ads. Within a few minutes we feel stressed out and our original goal in ruins. A focused network, run with apps like Slack or Discord, can be designed around our business goals or be relevant to us as consumers. A comforting community space.

I am not endorsing any particular social platform here. I just happened to be familiar with Slack and Discord. A specific third-party app is less important and shouldn’t dictate your marketing plans. Use the tools that you feel most comfortable with. I’ve had modest success on Substack, building a network of like-minded newsletter subscribers and interacting with them via a chat feature. If you enjoy blogging, then Medium might be the answer. All these digital solutions have one thing in common. They each enable you to build a focused network of users around a shared interest or theme, which is how the real world works and how to do the most effective marketing online.