There are plenty of industries in America that take common sense principles, wrap them in flowery language, and then sell them as a premium service. This is a situation that works out fairly well because millions of people either don’t have common sense in the first place, or are too busy to worry about things that require common sense. Social media is one such area. Beneath the buzz words and the frilly marketing, a lot of social media is essentially common sense – and here’s why.
When you strip social media down to its most basic level it’s essentially about forming relationships and having conversations with real people. That’s something that most of us – with the exception of this hermit author – are already well-versed in and do every day. They’re skills we’ve been honing since kindergarten and tie-in to the fact that humans are instinctively social creatures. They’re also skills we don’t necessarily need somebody who describes themselves as a “guru” or “community engagement specialist” on their business card to help us with. So here are my top nine common sense tips with real-life examples for how to succeed in social media.
- Have something interesting to say. If you have the conversation skills of Kim Jong Il you’ll likely find yourself as the guy/gal at the party who’s sitting alone in the kitchen trying not to look awkward. Good conversation skills generally stem from having something interesting and genuine to say and being able to say it in a friendly, approachable manner. Same is true for social media. If you want to create social traction around your content or product, create something that’s compelling and relevant for your audience. From hooky headlines to a killer turn-of-phrase, your job is to enter the social conversation and keep people listening.
Don’t barge in. If you were at a restaurant or bar with a group of friends and a Jehovah’s Witness interrupted your conversation to begin preaching, it’s unlikely you’d be persuaded to enroll on the spot. This has a direct parallel with the world of social media. Too many brands think they can simply force their way into the online conversation and start to push products, or email sign-ups or something similar. People don’t react well to strangers, especially when they have that slightly desperate look in their eye.
The vast majority of people you meet aren’t that interested in what you say. At any party there’s usually one person who spends the evening terrorizing guests with an endless stream of deathly dull, long-winded and self-indulgent stories and anecdotes. You see that person? Well that’s likely your brand on Twitter or Facebook. Just because you CAN create a Twitter account doesn’t mean anyone will actually care all that much. Only create and maintain social media accounts if they actually add some level of value to the customer. Simply creating them for creating them sake is a fruitless exercise.
People you meet most likely don’t care about the same things you do. I happen to be a huge fan of the singer Morrissey – some would say to the point of obsession. But in a social setting I have enough self awareness to realise that just because I’m a huge fan, the chances that the person I’m talking to over lunch probably won’t – so it would be unwise of me to spend 2 hours rambling on about why he’s the greatest musical lyricist of all time. Corporations could learn a trick from this example. In the past I’ve seen corporate communications groups wanting to post press releases about vague internal initiatives that are probably important to them, but mean nothing to a consumer. Keep focused and don’t use social media as a dumping ground for endless public relations and corporate communications messages.
Speak to your audience in the appropriate language. When I spend time with my parents it’s unlikely I’ll delve into the finer points of the latest Android mobile device, simply because I know this will mean absolutely nothing to them. In social media circles, make sure you use the appropriate language for your audience. So if you’re a corporation, don’t employ typical corporate language in your social media communication. Words like “transform” and “leverage” will likely cause users to vomit all over their “Like” button.
Friends are fickle. You know that couple you met at the July 4th cook-out? The couple who seemed really nice and said they’d love to come to your end-of-summer party? Well guess what, they didn’t turn up and they never even gave you any warning. Yes, it’s true – people will generally disappoint you over and over again. Especially people who don’t really know you that well. Don’t think things are any different in social media land. Not only will people disregard you out of laziness or boredom, but if you do something to **cross** them you’ll be ejected from the network in a flash. Don’t screw with your community and you might just be able to stay friends with everyone.
What do you get out of the friendship? We all have friends from years gone by that we stay in touch with but – honestly speaking – we don’t have that much in common with anymore. Sure they’re nice people, and you had some great times back in the day, but life has moved on and now you don’t really know what to talk about. In short, the benefits don’t really justify the effort you’re investing to maintain the friendship. In social media you have to understand the point of what you’re doing. It’s great having 50,000 Facebook fans but are they actually **doing** anything for you? Are they bringing THEIR friends to the party, buying your products, consuming your content…..you need to make sure you understand exactly what it is you want out of the friendship. Many don’t, hence why social media can be a struggle for many brands.
Relationships are inherently unpredictable. Human interactions are generally laced with moments that you simply never saw coming. From the pregnant friend who swore she’d never have a baby to the mild-mannered office mate who was caught having a string of affairs, certain events take us all by surprise. In the social space the same concept is true. The most unexpected things will go on to become huge viral hits. These hits are generally unpredictable and not through design or clever planning. So the key here is to not only experiment regularly in social media (without antagonizing your community) but also to run a million miles if anybody tells you they understand how to create “viral campaigns”. Nobody knows what will or won’t be viral, and those campaigns that take off generally do so by chance alone.
We all love a good listener. People who listen well are generally held in high esteem, simply because the vast majority of people are self-obsessed and struggle to actually listen at all. Take time to make sure your brand is doing the same within social circles. Respond to feedback, acknowledge criticism and engage with comments. People – especially customers and fans – really do value this type of approach and it can have a tremendous positive halo effect on your brand. Read more from Jonathan Hills at The Spinning Hamster