It’s a question I get often.
Few organizations get social media. They’re confused by what is, what it means and how it’s implemented.
Before you brand these people as rubes, remember that it wasn’t that long ago that Google lamented that they couldn’t promote Chrome because few understood what a browser was.
I’ll take it one step further, dammed few us within the public relations and social media communities understand it either.
Do the experts “really” understand social?
Most of the masterminds of social are people who have been in it for a very long time; they were the first to sake claim to the concept. Are they successful because they know so much or because they were astute enough to get in early?
If I read one more article from one more “expert” about creating a community of raving fans I think I’m going to toss my cookies. I go to the social media conferences and I see the same people give the same speeches they gave five years earlier.
Do I understand social?
I used to think that I knew a lot about social; I was one of the first state and federal agencies to use it (yes, I got in early) and I ranked incredibly well in Google and had millions of page views.
At a conference I was speaking at, someone caustically asked me if I ever started a non-government site from scratch?
“Nope,” I answered.
“Then sir, you don’t know social,” he firmly stated. “You’re a dot.gov and that’s how you get all those page views and great rankings.”
Since then I started two sites of my own and helped others with their government, nonprofit and association sites.
I took his challenge and quickly found out that he was right. You don’t know social until you fight, scratch and claw for every page view.
Community of raving fans? Hell, on my personal sites, I’m lucky just to get through the endless spam messages which also applies to the spam I get from registered users (God, I’m popular in Poland).
I just celebrate a real question from a real person on my website.
So what is social media?
I find that the most common question among I get is, “What is social media and what is it supposed to do?”
Here’s my shot at the question.
What social media is:
Internet-based communication through a website and concurrent use of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Social is meaningless unless the content you create has meaning for your audience.
Social is designed to create an exchange of views between provider and customers (but few do).
What social isn’t:
Social is far more than Facebook or related sites with your random thoughts of the day.
There is a formula, right?
The answer is complex and the hardest part of providing an understanding of social media.
Social media is not and cannot be a cookie-cutter recipe for communications.
There are brands and sites that quickly attract millions of followers without a lot of effort. If you build Jeep Wranglers or motorcycles or you are a national religious or political leader, build it and they will come.
What is not exactly clear, however, is what hundreds of thousands of followers really means from a communications perspective. There is strong evidence that social is great for branding but an unanswered question as to people taking specific actions (like buying something).
And the research indicates that the organizations contacted either don’t respond to the majority of messages and comments (although the percentages are growing) and when they do, it’s not a meaningful experience for the customer.
Regardless, we love the numbers and both appreciate/fear the comments.
Who are you competing against?
There are endless social media experiences that will differ depending on your audience and budget. As I created this site I discovered how hard it can be.
There are thousands of sites devoted to social media and public relations; gaining a foothold for very popular topics is difficult.
But I helped some develop a site where the competition is not nearly as strong and it quickly took off.
I employ the same strategies in my award winning government sites and the successful site I just mentioned but when it comes to this site, I discovered humility.
I’m up against well established people telling me to create “raving communities of loyal fans.” I’m not a known name.
It’s all about the content:
This is the list of things you need to create great content:
- Make people’s lives simpler and easier-answer their questions.
- Create products that respect learning styles through short, easy to read story-based articles, fact sheets, audio and video.
- Remember that people are overloaded with internet options. They skim, they do not read. Get to the point.
- Mobile is the future of all things digital. Create for mobile platforms.
- Be prepared to work hard-very hard.
- Results will take years, not months.
- No one person can 1. handle the tech issues 2. write or create great video and audio 3. and market. You need multiple people to do it properly even if it’s contractual. Want an example? Google prides itself on hiring tech-oriented people and they have been a flop when it comes to social. Wonder why?
Social media is Facebook and similar sites, correct?
My God, no! Facebook and additional social media sites can be (and often is) a meaningless experience. It’s about your website and it’s about the content you create. Take that content and post on social media sites after posting it on your website.
Will I create a community of raving fans?
Unless you are a corporation or entity backed by millions of dollars of advertising, probably not. What you will do, however, is to create an opportunity for thousands of people to be exposed to your message in new and unique ways.
Thousands will interact with what we do, correct?
Again, probably not. I ran national clearinghouses (both connected to the nation’s most successful public service advertising campaign backed up by tens-of-millions of dollars of television and radio ads) and few called or wrote (this was before the internet) for additional information or offered comments or criticisms. The vast majority of interactions were handled by prepared fact sheets and letters.
I created millions of page views for a variety of sites but the comments and interactions are few in number. Most simply acknowledge and complement. Again, prepared fact sheets handle most of the rest.
I do, however, respond to every unique inquiry.
The research strongly suggests that most organizations do not respond to inquiries, comments or criticisms although the numbers are improving.
Thus the premise that social media is a platform for the exchange of views or the resolution of issues is currently an open question.
The only issue not in question is when bad news goes viral through social. “Participation” then takes on a brand new meaning.
Then why do social?
There are endless reasons for doing social media:
- It will probably be the future of communications. It’s emerging. We are still trying to figure it out.
- You have the opportunity to influence millions of people.
- Your organization can be destroyed (OK, significantly hampered) by social media. You have to be involved. You have to understand how it works.
- For many organizations without an advertising budget, social media, e-mail and your website may be your only options to communicate and influence.
- It allows you to respond quickly to emerging issues.
- If you do it right, media will appreciate your efforts.
- Your website and social media platform works 24/365 to represent your organization. Regardless of the time and day, you have an electronic spokesperson providing accurate information.
What’s the principal thing to understand about social media?
Those in business will tell you that 80 percent of purchases are made by 20 percent of customers. You have to influence the 20 percent.
This is what I call the “Quality Web.” You don’t have to influence everybody. You have to favorably impact those important to you.
So now I have my fact sheet explaining social media (at least from my perspective) for all those who ask.
Feel free to agree or disagree.
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