I’m going to start this post with a confession: I’ve been spending a lot of my non-work time with social media tools, platforms and networking sites. This is ironic, by the way, because one of my recent posts is titled: Beware the Social Media Rathole and Re-Focus on 5 Key Business Disciplines.
My latest obsession revolves around the ultimate tools for posting content, sharing ideas, sharing articles, and putting up personal photos and videos in the simplest, quickest way possible. If you’re a small business that can’t afford options like Salesforce, Vitrue, Wildfire and Involver, I recommend Hootsuite. It’s a great tool for managing multiple social streams, accounts and profiles. And if you use Gmail, you can use a plugin/tool like Rapportive to get a lot of the cool CRM features of those expensive platforms. This combination of Hootsuite and Rapportive makes for a powerful, super-low-cost social media management system that you can use every day. You can also use these tools to easily schedule posts throughout the week and target specific content to clients, prospects and fans.
OK – the point of this little riff, however, is to parse through some of the observations I’ve come across and to make some sense of it all in both a business and personal context. This exercise was originally just for me, but it occurred to me that you might benefit, as well.
One thing’s for sure – there’s *a lot* of chatter, anxiety and buzz out there with respect to everything social media/networking.
First, I want to set a baseline about communication and socialization and what it means to me. Then maybe we can move on to some of the curious things I’ve seen out in the “social networking” world.
I’ll start with an anecdote. When I was in high school, a friend and I started our own t-shirt company. I almost said “apparel company” there, but it wasn’t .. just one idea for a funny t-shirt (see image). The design was funny, interesting and relevant to the obsessions of our target audience – high school kids.
It was about partying, status symbols (tongue and cheek to some extent – heck we were all growing up in one of the cheesiest, money-hungry cities in the U.S.), and college, the fortunate obsession of my peer group. So those elements were all in place.
And we sold thousands of t-shirts, sweatshirts and tank tops. Enough to keep me on the beach and sipping (moderation – ;^)) Coors Light well into my college years.
But I don’t think it was the design, the humor or the general theme that made the project work. Those elements had to be in place, of course. Yet, it needed something else.
We used to call the really popular, socially active kids “soc’s” back in the day (pronounced soshes, with the ‘o’ sounding like its name). I guess I was one of those. But I had hooks into a lot of different groups – including the geeks (I had an Apple II+ before anyone else), the mods (I loved the Jam, The Clash and Generation X), and the jocks (I played tennis but hung out with the water polo guys).
The t-shirt company needed that “soc” component. The word needed to be spread amongst a group of people who liked each other, shared the same values and perhaps wanted to see our project succeed. My buddy and I were in a good position for that. We liked a lot of people, and they liked us. In today’s online world, you might call it “friending” or “following.”
That little business was a mix of social and business.
“Business Life” bleeds into “Social Life”
Over the years (I’m 41 now), I’ve seen a swinging tide of communication and interaction with my own business that straddles this line between social and business. And I always come back to the same core idea: Business is social. That’s no revelation, I know. But it’s important. In my writing business, I work with people I know and like. I’ve met some of them in person. Some through email originally. Some via social media channels. I talk with them from week to week on the phone. We have common goals and interests when it comes to marketing copy, persuasion and content production.
My clients and I got to know each other in person, online and over the telephone wires (the last two are the same I guess). We sussed each other out, made sure our shoes were clean, made sure we didn’t smell bad and decided to do business with each other. That’s the way it works. You can’t take the social component out of it. And personal life bleeds into business life. They can see my Facebook stuff, if they like. But I run a clean show for the most part. I have a few wild friends that post off-color remarks on my pages from time to time, and I’ll put up a questionable humor link from time to time. But everything’s PG to PG-13 for the most part.
So, when I talk to people about Facebook, Twitter and the like, I often come back to the idea that business is social and the Internet is just another communication device. It’s no different than the pony express, the written letter, the telegraph, the steam boat or the telephone.
“But you lie, Phil!”
Yes I do. Somewhat. There’s a big difference between these new tools and the old, one-to-one communication channels like telephone, letter, email and personal conversation.
With those older “technologies,” the viral or word of mouth element is limited. If you call three friends and tell them some gossip or some useful business information, then your potential “megaphone” factor might extend the message out to another 40-80 people maximum, depending upon on the value or interest-level of the message and your own circle of friends. The people on the other end of the line have to be very motivated to call another person and extend your message, so 40 to 80 might be stretching it. The same thing applies to a letter, a newspaper clipping you mail, or an email (though emails are slightly more viral due to forwarding).
With something like a Facebook or Twitter post, however, your information can be immediately launched to massive networks within seconds. All it takes is one friend with several hundred Facebook contacts or a Twitter follower who has several thousands of followers in their network.
If I had a Twitter account back in 1984, I would have designed college sweatshirts for every community in Southern California and beyond, and then mined Twitter in reverse to spread the word. What does that mean? – “Mine Twitter in reverse..?” This subject is worth another post, but essentially, it’s about using tools like search.twitter.com to connect with people that have similar interests (and to target demographics). You can do similar mining on Facebook now, too. I might have even used AdWords to get the word out.
Who will go to bat for you?
Getting the word out is crucial, of course. And, to go viral you need strong connections to living breathing people. Here are the three keys to getting the word out:
These also apply to your personal communications. The point here, however, is that it doesn’t matter what communication channel you use. Use your phone, a postage stamp, an email, Twitter or Facebook. But pay attention to those three keys. These are what will determine who will go to bat for you.
#1 has to do with who cares about you and your products/solutions. The root of this “caring” lies, interestingly, in the quality of care you direct toward your customers and contacts. If you care about your consumers/users/audience, then you’re putting yourself in their shoes every day, trying to figure out ways you can benefit them.
#2 has to do with the quality and quantity of your interactions. How many “touches” do you have with customers and friends/followers? Are you bugging people or offering them real value and insights? Are you answering their questions and trying to help them when your solution is not working out as planned?
#3 is an extension of #2. If you’re selling *anything* these days, you’re in the content production business. Ask any exec in upper management at Starbucks, and they’ll tell you that they’re in the content production and experience business. They nailed down coffee production, franchise and supply chain issues long ago. Their key differentiator is now “experience enhancement.” That means testing store designs and content (e.g. music selections and messaging on displays), engaging with “hub” or power/influencer users online and in the physical world at events, and constantly pumping out relevant information (whether it’s regarding philanthropy projects, music, books or coffee facts). Content has always been king, and you need to produce it well in order to make any kind of impact in this world. That goes for software companies, shipping companies, French fry peddlers, freelancers, web designers, lawyers, dog walkers… everybody.
Now, that said… ask yourself, “Would I rather make 500 phone calls? Or is it worthwhile building a network of Facebook and Twitter followers?” If I were selling sweatshirts, I’d opt for the latter. Multimedia advantages aside (e.g. demos, jpegs, and video showcasing the products), social media tools scale much more easily than phone calls, post cards or index cards on the bulletin board at the local coffee shop.
A strange world in transition
Ideally, social media allows you to make more connections with people and perhaps even make more meaningful, lasting connections – whether it’s for business or social purposes. But that’s not always the case is it? People resist participation, some only broadcast their views and others just don’t communicate all that well.
What follows are stories about three friends/associates of mine and how they perceive social media. Keep in mind, these people are like most of us (with the exception of the techie guy who’s deeply immersed in this social media scene). They want to find tools that are easy for them to use and don’t complicate their lives further. I can identify with that, and I’m not going take issue with them on a technology level. Many of the tools and “solutions” out there that are supposed to make communication easier are difficult to manage, and they don’t do what people want them to do. This is getting better, however, with the refinement of the tools I mentioned earlier (Hootsuite, Hootlet, Rapportive, Gmail).
So, I’ll start with the simplest of stories. This guy is a friend of mine from high school. He’s what I’d call a Facebook power user. He’s constantly updating his status, posting photos and linking to articles of interest. One time I posted a story about Twitter on my Facebook feed, and he fired back, “I hate Twitter.”
To me that was strange. Here’s a guy that spends a good portion of his day using a communication tool (Facebook) to update his pool of friends and communicate with them. There’s another tool out there that does something similar and he hates it. There could be something else going on, too. Suw Charman-Anderson has an interesting post about social media polarization, bigotry and “outgroup” phenomena.
People become religious about their tools and forget the underlying reality – it’s about communication. You see this with people who are passionate about Macs over PCs. Those who like Android over iPhones, etc. I’d agree that some tools are easier to use for particular types of people. For example, I like my Android, because I love the techie flexibility and I LOVE Swype beta. I think the same thing applies to my friend and his Facebook account. He’s committed to it. He’s all dialed in. And he’s used to the way it works. I can appreciate that.
I’m pretty sure that similar feelings accompanied the evolution of other technologies, as well. I have an aunt, for example, that can’t stand email. She prefers the pen, the ink and a stamp. People despise Amazon Kindles because they like the feel of paper pages. There was a time when a lot of people despised cell phones (many still do for a variety of reasons).
You don’t find many people who despise communication, however. And that’s really what we’re talking about. There are a lot of preferences out there. Some people prefer texting. Some Skype. Some IM. There’s an evolution of how a particular communication thread goes, too. For example, I like to text to set up plans and get simple questions answered, but I’ll go to voice when the conversation looks like it’s going to include more details or a personal tone/touch.
And, if I want to share something with a large group of people without “bugging” them, I choose social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. The people on the other end of the communication can deal with the information (or not) whenever they choose. The scalability factor is nice, and it’s easier for me to update a lot of people at once. This is different than direct communications like @-replies and one-to-one threads in Facebook, of course.
The second friend is a business woman who’s involved in media production and advertising for small businesses. She runs an “old school” magazine/dining guide that recommends restaurants in the local area. I call it old school because the publication is beholden to its advertisers – the old model for print publications. You sell ads and offer the buyers a carrot. If they buy ads, they get editorial. It makes for a very un-transparent, deceptive “guide.” We met up to discuss our respective marketing capabilities, and I mentioned social media, Twitter mining, Word Press blogs, etc. She said she was able to do any of those types of things for clients (with partner companies), but she doesn’t follow the technology trends and the new advertising models. She didn’t know what AdWords are, for example.
During our conversation, she pushed back really hard against any mention of social media or the value of social networking with respect to marketing. Personally, she felt that any new tools or practices (like using Twitter or Facebook) would just complicate her life. She found chasing email frustrating enough as is.
Her demographic for the dining guide is young adults, probably 18 to 35 – pre-children professionals that have time to go out and eat well, club, etc. I mentioned that this group increasingly avoids email in favor of social media communication. I repeated the popular line of Gen Y – “If I want to get a hold of an old person, I’ll use email.” Otherwise, they’re filtering their communications via social media tools and sites. This helps them avoid burdensome activities like chasing email all day. My friend wasn’t buying it. She was more interested in talking about four-color layouts for direct response post cards. I don’t have anything against those, but I thought we’d get beyond that.
And, I must say (Ed Grimley) that I concur with her about the frustration with yet another social media tool to use or site to join. For most of us, it’s exhausting keeping up with these things. People need easy-to-use, intuitive tools that offer shortcuts. Many don’t know about bit.ly and tiny.url and the like. They don’t have the Chrome or Firefox plug-ins like Hootlet. Fortunately social media buttons are now everywhere.
But I was taken aback by this friend’s position. While I could understand it completely, I just think it’s a bit naïve for a marketing professional to resist this. It’s like resisting using the phone for cold calling, using the yellow pages for prospecting or using the mail for advertising in days gone by.
My third friend is a big anomaly… a paradox of sorts. He’s someone I’ve partnered with in the past (on AdWords campaigns for joint clients). He’s a power user of Twitter, Facebook and all things social media. In fact, he frequently offers seminars and talks on the subject. His niche is in helping small businesses with Web marketing and positioning. He’s a big proponent of WordPress (I am, too).
I recently emailed him with questions about some social media issues I was wondering about. No reply. So I pinged him with an @ on Twitter and a DM. No reply. I emailed some more as additional ideas came up. Nothing. Then I commented on some of his Facebook entries to see if I could get a response there. Nope, nada.
It was very strange. Here’s someone who’s hook-line-and-sinker in the tank for social media, and he’s ignoring direct communications. Could be that I offended him. Maybe I owe him money (don’t think so). It’s possible that he’s a huge power user of these tools and that my pings have fallen through the cracks. I could imagine a scenario where my emails go to his spam folder, his Twitter @ feed is way too jammed and he ignores DMs (like a lot of Twitter folks do, due to spam).
It’s just weird that all this use of social media actually prevents communication. In this case, it’s probably time to just pick up the phone.
Circling Back – Be a Communicator, a Content Producer and a Content Filter
Ok, so what are the big take-aways here? Communication is the critical component to all of this. Despite my failures with friend #3, and the resistance of many to new communication channels – socializing and sharing ideas with people drives business and friendships. There’s nothing new there, but it’s an age old truth.
Also, people are at wildly different stages of adoption when it comes to communication tools. Heck, even folks in the marketing space still resist new modes of communication. People find tools that they like, and they stick with them because they’re comfortable and they’ve invested in some “build-out” of profiles, skill sets, etc.
So what should you do when it comes to using social media tools for better business and relationships? My recommendations are simple (even though I’m often guilty of not following them very competently).