Social Media is PEOPLE!

by Jennifer Vides on April 13, 2011

in My Soapbox (AKA My Blog)

Not long ago I was listening to NPR on my way to work. The guest was a reporter from a major U.S. newspaper whose name is irrelevant to the conversation. The topic matter was Egypt and how “social media” had brought that government down.

Maybe I’m just a word nerd and this is all just semantics. But “social media” didn’t bring the Egyptian government down. It also didn’t spread the word about the events following the earthquake in Japan. PEOPLE DID.

Now, I say “I know, duh.” And I’m sure many of you do, too. What struck me was that here were two intelligent reporters from highly respected organizations referring to the people who had the passion and courage to stage those history-making protests in Egypt as “social media.”

I hear this time and time again. A certain global company infamously referred to people who questioned its policies on its Facebook page as “social media” in a written response, resulting in a ton of (deserved) backlash. Sadly, I continue to see this from brands – and individuals – who purport to “know social media.”

Fundamentally, those organizations who have failed (famously or not) at social media do so for one simple reason: they don’t know who “social media” is.

That wasn’t a typo: I said “Who” and not “what.”

Here I go again picking on “ gurus” who try to make social media out to be some newfangled and complex technology.

Well, it’s not. Social media is what email or cell phones were years ago. It’s a tool, a communications vehicle. And while these tools definitely help people to discover, connect and communicate in ground-breaking ways, they most certainly aren’t doing the work. People are doing the work.

You know whose voice is going through my head as I write this? Wait for it:

Charlton Heston in the movie Soylent Green when he discovers that the movie’s namesake meal is made from *gasp* people!!

Like soylent green, social media is people. I’m nearly as shocked as Mr. Heston was in this film to discover that many brands (and many of you?) forget that SOCIAL MEDIA is PEOPLE. According to Klout, people who use social media are influencers, activists and more. These people are sharing, connecting, bonding, arguing and fighting – using the Internet – with people from places near and far. But the important thing to remember is that all they’re doing is taking online what they’ve done since the cavemen days. The only difference is that now their voices can be projected with the click of a mouse.

So what does this mean for marketers? Well, um… that you’re dealing with people, and generally-accepted social rules apply. In some ways, you need to consider it a social situation with a group of people who might be beneficial to your business. You wouldn’t hand out a PowerPoint presentation at a party would you? Sadly, many marketers do the equivalent of that when they interact with people in social media. It just doesn’t work. So what to do? Some suggestions:

  • Introduce yourself: Say hello, tell people what you’re about. But not in a spammy way (as in: auto DMs or “look at my site” tweets are simply not cool).
  • Be polite: Listen, ask questions and interact with people based upon what you learn about them. It’s not all about you.
  • Be responsive: If someone talks to you, respond! And this rule applies to people who are asking/telling you about things that you’d prefer to ignore.
  • Be helpful: The best brands are service-oriented brands. And social media allows you to monitor what your customers are saying about you, even if they’re not talking to you. It’s important to be helpful. Social media tools can be outstanding for customer service.
  • Be respectful: Don’t assume a thing about the people you interact with using social media. Read their bios and their blogs, and give them proper respect – no matter who they are.
  • Be yourself: Every brand has a heart. If there’s any marketing tool that allows you show it, it’s social media. Keep the core tenets of your brand in mind as you interact with people.
  • Don’t be pretentious: I hate the notion of  “followers” though I realize it’s a commonly used Twitter term. Just because you have a large number of Twitter followers it doesn’t mean you’re influential. What matters is the level and quality of engagement you have with your community. Trust me: I’ve analyzed people’s Klout scores. High “follower” count doesn’t automatically equal a high Klout score.

Most importantly: don’t forget that “social media” is people who have families, feelings, passions and more. I don’t care if you’re a brand or a person. If you keep that in mind your social media experience will be much more pleasant and effective.

Do you need a social media strategy? Call me. We can make it happen.

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