weird comics mad scientist

25 September 2009

Not Weird Science: Social Media in One Word

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Social Media User, Instructor & Consultant…

So let’s trip back to 1876, the year the telephone was invented… Hmmm… something’s missing… and I’m not talking about Starbucks on every corner…

Oh, I know: no one here calls themselves a “Phone Guru,” “Phone Visionary” or some other phone-y title. There aren’t “Phone-ups” in every major city to discuss telephone best practices. There aren’t even “call me” Fridays or “favorite hymn” Mondays. Geez, how primitive were these people? How did they survive without memes? The telephone was one revolutionary, bad-ass, disruptive technology — certainly, 19th century Americans needed “thought leaders” to teach them how to leverage and monetize it… no?

Flash forward to Twitter, arguably a giant leap backward from telephones: conversations don’t flow freely, with every statement limited to 140 measly characters. Even the telegraph wasn’t that limited. Twitter is truly a simple platform — or should I say simpleton platform: you can’t throw a (biz) stone without hitting a self-proclaimed Twitter expert, guru, visionary, or thought leader. (Note: people who call themselves gurus, visionaries, or thought leaders, aren’t.)

These masters of the Twitterverse convene in Tweetups, start every other word with the letters “tw,” establish arbitrary Twitter rules and customs, even hire Tony Freakshow Robbins for inspiration. Just for kicks, here’s a definition of “tweetup” you might enjoy (via SteveBonus at Urban Dictionary):

A gathering of nerds attempting social contact, likely for the first time. Usually disintegrates into everyone running to the nearest computer to type to one another.

All harmless fun, right? Kind of like Dungeons & Dragons for people over 14. Some of the attendees might even meet a tweeter of the opposite sex and produce little tweetlings. Pass the cigars, everyone’s happy.

Social Snake Oil

The problem arises when faux experts start charging corporations for their wizardly wisdom, as noted by Olivier Blanchard in his BrandBuilder post, “Calling foul on bogus Social Media experts. Again.” These snake oil hucksters, as Blanchard describes them, concoct arcane methodologies and frameworks to make social media appear far more complicated than it really is. Blanchard delves into other atrocities — atwocities? — with such delicious invective and scathing examples that you should read his article just to feel his rage.

Now I teach social media to college students, and I help clients plan social media campaigns. And, yes, social media has technical factoids to learn. I also teach applicable business principles and communications skills. But if you’re already a competent writer, and are savvy enough to know not to spam, flame, or do anything else embarrassing online, then almost everything you need to know about social media can be gleaned from one word: Value.

Crashing the Virtual Party

OK, I hear my detractors uttering a FAIL wail…

“Value? That’s what you made us read nearly 600 words to find out? Value?! What, you couldn’t have expressed that in 140 characters or less?”

That’s certainly what I’d say if this were some other marketer’s blog. But hear me out and you’ll see why I dig “value” as a guiding term…

First, determine which social media platform offers the most value to you.

You don’t have to do them all. As I noted in an earlier post on Twitter, social media platforms are like different colors: just because one exists doesn’t mean you have to use it. I help my clients choose social media by critically assessing their resources: are they good writers? would they come across well on video? do they have money to hire talent? I then ask what they want to achieve and how much time they can invest. Social media might be free to use at a basic level, but doing it right is incredibly time consuming.

Once your choose your platform, ask two value-based questions:

  1. What do I want out of it?
  2. What do my potential customers want out of it?

Yes, all businesses need to make money, and that means sales. But if you want immediate sales, don’t bother with social media. That’s not some deeply guarded secret; it’s in the name: social media. Think of it as a big raging virtual cocktail party, which people attend to meet other people, share thoughts and ideas, and promote themselves. They’re not there to shop. (Note: I’m not referring to shopping sites with social features, like Yelp.) If you crash a party and start shouting, “Anyone want to buy this?!” you’ll get more cold stares than cold cash.

So pick something else you value:

  1. You want to meet people, too. Maybe someday your new connections (call them friends, fans, followers, or the f-word of your choice) will become customers or refer customers to you. Or they might help you find office space, talented employees, or tickets to a Lakers’ game. Just don’t scare ’em off with a sales pitch. Let them come to you when it’s time to buy.
  2. You want to hear their thoughts and ideas — particularly their critical ones about you. That way you can nip any damaging gossip in the bud by fixing the problem through words or actions. Ideally, your new connections will also have good ideas for you or about business in general.
  3. You want to promote yourself. Social media offers continuous opportunities to build your brand, but put yourself in the shoes of your fellow partier. What could be more boorish or boring than someone who spends the entire party talking about himself? You don’t have to be a social media scientist to figure that out.

Rather, think of what your audience might actually value:

  • Loot: Obviously, your business can offer special prizes or deals to your followers — and I mean real deals, not just a free initial consultation or 10% discount. And this doesn’t mean discounting your product or service. These days, a great deal can simply be a job. Know of any openings in your organization or industry? Tell your followers first. Similarly, if you have legit ideas for making money, share those, too — but not the get-rich-quick-by-working-from-home spam. There’s already far too much of that everywhere.
  • Links: You can also share links to stories about your industry — but do read ’em first to make sure they’re worth reading. Also, if you’re at an interesting event, or meet someone interesting in your industry, share your experience and insights.
  • Laughs: At the least, have a sense of humor. These days, everyone can use a smile. Share videos, images, and other grin-inducing items that that are a) appropriate for your audience, and b) ideally related to your business. Indeed, poking fun at your own industry is one way to curry favor.

What don’t people care about?

Do I have to say? Spend just one day browsing social media and you’ll quickly discover what kills brain cells: Posts about lunch. About being tired. About traffic. About going to the gym. About airports. About flight plans. About the weather. About videogame scores. About wifi availability. About where that person is at this very second….

Just thinking about it makes me want to find a wall with a target symbol at about forehead level.

So really, please, before posting anything, think about what value it offers to your audience.

Sounds obvious, right? But I’m amazed at all the “social media experts” who post banalities on a regular basis, as if anyone beyond their immediate family would care where they’re lunch right now. That makes even their immediate family think of unfollowing them.

Social media already contains too much static. In the early days of the Web, Wired magazine used to talk about the signal-to-noise ratio online. Now they’ve given up. The battle’s lost. Noise has won. So if you can increase the signal — which means offering items of value every time you post — you’ll stand out. Despite all the conventions and conferences, all the books and blogs, noise is still the modus operandi of social media. That’s why all the search engines are feverishly racing to see who can do the best job of finding the signal.

So increase the signal by offering value. The rest is easy.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

One Response

  1. Great article. Beware the self-proclaimed guru. Be a student always. There are many great advancements in media and communications. Experience and evaluation always trumps, so combine knowledge of the new with the background of what came before – then act. Humbly.

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