More Thoughts on Social Media

Clearly, I’m not a formal internet marketer. I don’t have “new media” in my Twitter bio. I have actual programming code in another text window of the editor I’m writing this in (text editor? ABSOLUTELY NOT a marketer). I don’t have a followbot looking for trends, I don’t spam everyone I can find on Facebook. If I follow someone from one or more of my (admittedly, multiple) Twitter accounts, a human has made the decision to do so based on something that seems relevant.

So why am I writing this rant? To get some ideas across and if anyone actually reads it, perhaps find out why what seem should be standards of normal human interaction no longer apply online, or maybe (just maybe) get some people (generally, not specifically) to reconsider what they’re doing in “social media” and how they’re trying to get their businesses off the ground.

Note with passion the first paragraph, though. IAMAPMAIDPONTI (I am not a professional marketer and I don’t play one on the internet.) Take everything you read here with a grain of salt, a Coke, something fried, and a dessert that starts clogging your arteries before it even reaches the table, because I have a feeling that “Southern manners” plays a role in the expectations I’m exploring here.

Social Media Is About Social

This topic is probably the hardest for me to write about, being an introverted geek most of the time, but it’s true. The whole one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, or many-to-many, concepts are only a small part of the puzzle. To be successful overall, there has to be two-way communication, at least part of the time. Now, that doesn’t mean it has to be an actual two-way conversation (though that is highly effective), but there has to be a feedback loop. If a company wants to “get the word out about something,” it’s not like a newspaper ad where the prose/pics get plastered in front of a reader and the business never looks at it again (until the event/promotion/whatever happens). Too many businesses look at social as one-to-many only and based on some sampling I’ve been doing lately, apparently never look at the results of their proclamations. It’s like “ok, we’ve done our ‘social media thing’, now what?” not understanding (or not caring) about taking advantage of the results. It is not just another output/write-only medium. (I touch on this slightly in a previous post.)

Social Media Is Not A Replacement For [ Websites, Email, Forums, Mailing Lists, Whatever ]

There are some companies whose nature will not only allow but flow properly into being “social media” only; a page on Facebook, a Twitter account, LinkedIn, or wherever, but for most companies, particularly those with physical presences and real markets to address, prioritization of resources is critical but assuming every social media/internet tool is a hammer, and every opportunity to communicate, a nail, will only result in a collection of interested people who have far more knots on their heads than is necessary.

Despite the overlap between communication methods, Twitter and email mailing lists for example, they each have strengths and weaknesses. The low barrier to following on Twitter encourages a large populace, but the focus might be a bit blurry. The focus of opt-in mailing lists is higher, due to the extra effort required to actually participate. Neither option is an all-consuming good or evil, they just are, and it’s up to the business to understand how to harness the power of each.

Depending on the kind of business in question, it can take some creative thinking to figure out which social media outlet is appropriate, how to use each effectively, and what level of effort will bring the desired business return. Yes, unlike many of the folks who have a “buy my eBook for only $19.95…”, I know the point of business involvement in social media is to benefit the business. Whether the benefit is in web traffic, foot traffic, direct profit measurement, or good to the community, the measurable (or at least identifiable) return must be evaluated.

Pick one or more of the options, but do so with goals in mind, preferably also with at least a little understanding of how these options differ.

Connecting The Pipes Together Is Not The Same As “Using” Each Service

Speaking of the difference between social media options, I’ve noticed something recently that truly seems to be a peril to companies that probably think they’re doing something good. The general statement is “providing information on one service and having it display on multiple others”. A specific case is the Twitter-Facebook integration application. I use it. Many, many companies use it. It is not inherently evil. That being said, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that it is an enabler for very poor use of Twitter (at least) and gives a false sense of success to the businesses. “Hey! We’re able to take advantage of Twitter and Facebook with minimal additional effort!” Um, no. Apparently not.

The Content For One Service Doesn’t Always Help The Other Service

Using this specific example as a way of looking beyond, let’s take a very quick rundown of some of the “features” of Twitter:

  1. Easy follow
  2. Short messages (140 characters)
  3. In theory, focused messages (due to length)
  4. Rapid dissemination
  5. Easy re-sharing

There are plenty more, but this will suffice for the time being. Now, look at the common uses of Facebook status posts:

  1. 500+ character posts
  2. Links and thumbnails
  3. Event and time information
  4. Link excerpts

Again, shortened from the nearly infinite list of possibilities, but some conflicts should already start to show. If you’re used to creating Facebook status updates (or simply are long winded) you’ll run into a problem immediately. See what it is? Go ahead, think about it. This article will be here when you’re done…

Okay. Just in case you skipped ahead, your posts are likely to be longer than 140 characters. “Duh!” you scream. That’s a bigger problem than it seems, because Facebook/Twitter will helpfully truncate your post and put a link to your Facebook post for you (“good!” you think, “it will drive more people to my Facebook page!”). Yes, your tweet will go out. Depending on how you worded it, maybe something interesting will show in the tweet, maybe not. Maybe followers will get past the annoyance of having to click through, maybe not. Maybe all your followers will be on devices that will allow them to see what you want them to see, even though you’re making it harder for them to do so. Maybe not. This paragraph doesn’t apply to those who understand how to use both Facebook and Twitter, and plan their posts appropriately. Which is now everyone reading this, right? Right?

Otherwise, you’re expecting Twitter users to act like Facebook users (at considerably higher effort levels) in order to read the information that may or may not be of interest to them. Do you see the issue with this approach (even if it’s not intentionally your approach?) If the only things you post require the reader to go to another service, do you expect this to generate a loyal following? This doesn’t mean that occasional “go somewhere else to finish reading” is bad, but it shouldn’t be more than 90% of the content on any given service.

The “Hidden Ignorance” Factor

Ignorance. n. “Lack of knowledge or information” Back to the elements: social, two-way communication, and “how people use the services”. You may think that you have a grand, ground-breaking way of using social services that is so valuable to the users, they’ll “stop what they’re doing” and jump through your hoops. Unlikely, at least in large volumes. So what do you have to do? Be social. Be aware of how to use the services that you choose to use. (This is important. There will be a quiz in a moment.) Two-way communication. Combined with the issue of “compatibility of information” between multiple services that I mention above, there is also “compatibility of business behavior” to consider. This one is, to my mind, almost silently insidious. The connection of services is great for convenience. An overworked office manager who is also tasked with being the director of social media services can kill multiple birds with one post. That’s the outbound side. What about the inbound side?

There is a booming business in “social media dashboards”, software and services that follow the integration theme, reduced duplication, higher awareness of events and information across several services. Unfortunately, there appears to be a disconnect going on among many who either don’t know about these, don’t care about these, or simply don’t understand the need to monitor the services on which they will hold a presence. Connecting the pipes, like the Facebook/Twitter app does encourages this unfortunate behavior because (at least sometimes) Twitter mentions, retweets, and responses seem to be ignored by a large volume of posters who have “via Facebook” denoting how the tweet escaped to the wild. I see plenty of examples of good behavior, mind you, but the number of “silent tweeters” if you will, the ones that never seem to post anything except through Facebook, the ones who never seem to retweet, reply, or otherwise interact in the Twitter space, those are candidates for wondering: “why?” and for noting that unless you’re about to hit it big with a brand new method of social interaction, you’re not likely to change the behavior of the existing community. Work with community norms, not against them, and you’re more likely to find success.

So What Was This About “Southern Manners”?

I made an oblique statement early on about manners, and by implication, the “rudeness” of some of these behaviors I’m musing on in this article. Our society as a whole is much less considerate of others (cue “in my day” story). There are whole psychological disciplines dedicated to studying why this is, so I won’t attempt to reproduce that sort of thing here. Something that is occurring to me, though, as I get my own brain around social media for the non-individual is one of consideration and whether or not it’s simply a vehicle for more “I don’t give a damn about you, look at me”.

I was raised in the Deep Southern US and while the area has it’s faults (no geographic region is without some things that could be improved) hospitality and politeness are hallmarks of the region. Consideration of others. Charity and compassion. Look at these traits and look at the items I muse about above. To take some statements to an extreme in example:

  • “As long as it’s convenient for me, I don’t care how much work you have to do to see how great I am.”
  • “Okay, I know you’re on Twitter. I use Facebook. Come over here. All the time.”
  • “I don’t know how to make what I’m doing fit with what you want. Do it my way instead.”
  • “This is just a way for me to broadcast. Don’t bother replying.”
  • “This is just a way for me to broadcast from one service to another. I read replies, but not on Twitter. Come to me if you have something to say.”

Yes, these are exaggerated in the extreme, but they are characterizations of the behaviors I outline in the thought processes of this article. Sure I’m applying person-to-person interaction notions to the online world. Sure, the concepts of consideration and politeness are thought to be outdated by many even before attempting to apply them online. Sure, I could just be out in left field and myself ignorant of the ways to make social media work for me, not against me.

I do want to close with a question then, assuming all these possibilities are true:

“Shouldn’t it be called anti-social media if that’s the correct way to act?”