Lots of “Analysis” on how to “use” social media, is it missing the point?

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Social Media Friends

Social media is creating quite a long tail of industries – lots of software companies, consultants, new modes of public relations, etc, etc.  Some of them focused on getting you into using social media, which is great, and many of them aspiring to help you “use” social media for your business.  The latter point is what I find interesting.

I’ve spoken on the topic of social media before (with assistance from the self-proclaimed “Bonafide Marketing Genius” Marta Kagan – FYI, I’m glad she has the confidence in herself to tag herself that way b/c she’s one of the few I would actually agree with) and I think the biggest point from my talk and others that I’ve seen (like Marta’s deck) is that this all is an excercise in sociology.  There are so many technologies that one could use, so many things that you could do, but in the end what is happening to the web is just another means of connecting, interacting, and getting to know people; not unlike joining a social club (like a sports team, a cultural center, or whatever).  In fact, just as you have “different circles of friends” offline (work friends, drinking buddies, sports friends), you’ll develop the same thing online and your community will drive you to the tools.

That’s where the idea “use social media” sticks in my craw a little bit.

I’ve had this blog since 2004 and I’ve interacted with many many people thanks to it.  It’s mainly an outlet for my thoughts, creativity, and passion (wine, technology, and marketing) and I’ve made a serious number of friends in the wine industry because of it.  My goal was to do exactly that, get to know people in the wine industry.  One of the major things its taught me though is that the only way to truly understand what this “social media” thing is all about is to get out and do it.  BUT – do it with a genuine desire and understand that its a means to reach out to a community (blog in particular).  Its not a sales tool and its not a PR tool for social media any more then going to a conference is a PR tool for you.  What I mean is you can go to a conference, chat with people, network, find people that you can stay connected with.  If you contribute to the conference (effectively contributing to the ‘community’ that the conference is bringing together) then you can get noticed and in that sense you get some good word-of-mouth publicity.

But here is how to think of “use social media” (Ugh!).  Its a sociological, human based filter.  Its not a broadcast engine like the “information super highway” or the “series of tubes”.  Doesn’t matter what tool/site you use, first and foremost your community has to be on that site and/or using that tool.  There is always a “critical mass” that needs to be achieved before the tool gets useful.  Kind of like a party, its not really fun until there are a bunch of people you know there.

Once your community is there, interacting, chatting, whatever then the dynamics of what happens is facinating.  Things start to get “useful” and the human filter is formed.  It becomes a situation where the community is as close as a bunch of office mates even though they are all over the world.  I literally consider the community I interact with on Twitter my “virtual office mates” and I genuinely like interacting with them.  The reason is that you can contribute (chat, answer questions, and otherwise participate) just like you would any other office.  In the case of Twitter, it becomes just like a hallway conversation in an office.  You can ignore it for a while, pop your head in with a little bit of nothing to say, put out some information or useful tool to the community, or you can put out a serious question to the group and get some solid answers.  Pretty much how you would for any office with cubilcles and hallways.

The best part of all this is that when the community reaches critical mass of people in a certain technology/tool who genuinely like to talk about a particular topic, forming an open community, thats when the best things come out.  If you contribute something to that community that is truly useful, it will get passed on to everyone very quickly.  People will decide if what you said is interesting, show their friends and, if its applicable, their friends may pass on the information to their other “open communities”.  The network effect takes over and your information has just become “viral” (i.e. it will spread not only in the current ‘circle of friends’ but to other ‘circles of friends’).  More importantly, the human filter took over and since that useful piece of information you generated is actually VERY useful, it will get passed on for a while (or very funny, or very interesting in some other way – the latest on Twitter was a streaming video of puppies, not useful, just very Zen).

So if you find an open community or want to know where there is critical mass already for a community you want to learn about (for instance – the wine community is embracing Twitter and Social Networks) on one of these tools the best way to “use social media” (I hate the term because it makes me feel like “use your friends”, but I guess there isn’t a better way to say it) is to contribute in significant ways.  Add to the community but more importantly be YOURSELF.  If people like you, they like you.  If they don’t, guess what…they don’t.  There isn’t alot of advice that can be given there that your parents should’ve taught you before Kindergarten.  Thats the funny truth of this “social media” craze.  The fundamental sociological point is that this is making friends.  Because even if you contribute something that spreads from network to network like wildfire, when those people check you out and “follow you” on Twitter, or Facebook, or whatever, then they start to get to know you in a more personal way then anyone over 25 ever thought possible.  If you’re obviously contributing to promote your business it will come across.  If you genuinely approach this medium (regardless of technology) as “getting to know people” in the way you’ve always done then you’ll not only have that “viral hit” you won’t be an online “one hit wonder”, you’ll have friends who can help you when you’re down, connect you to others, help you build business, get emotionally invested in your brand…. i.e. you’ll be a part of a community and how you do that is something your Mom and Dad shoulda taught you.

FYI – if you’re doing it for a business/brand it doesn’t matter – if people don’t like your personality, they won’t like your brand.  These things have a way of piercing the corporate PR veil.  Want an example?  Supposedly Cisco “gets” blogging.  Read their blogs and you tell me what you think….

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8 thoughts on “Lots of “Analysis” on how to “use” social media, is it missing the point?

  1. I agree with what you’re saying. Social Media is just a conduit with which to build relationships — not “brands.” And just as sending a blanket press release won’t achieve publicity results, spamming your social network will also tend to backfire when you use it solely as “junk mail”🙂

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  2. I’ve been in the wine business for 20 years and I also happen to be a tech geek with a marketing bend. I can tell you from experience that at least in the wine business, everything that is successful revolves around relationships and “the community”…everything else is secondary… Want to build a new brand. Go viral – it is all about the relationship and trust – the rest, as in brand building will just happen on its own… Nice blog Man…

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  3. I emailed this post to several people involved in online marketing already. Right on target and a message that companies need to understand. Social media is all about authenticity.

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  4. Thanks! {seesmic_video:{“url_thumbnail”:{“value”:”http://t.seesmic.com/thumbnail/GNu8uB2P7C_th1.jpg”}”title”:{“value”:”Thanks! “}”videoUri”:{“value”:”http://www.seesmic.com/video/6NN8PqckUa”}}}

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  5. This is a really excellent post! At my last job (Knowledge Planner at an internet focused marketing and communications firm) the company had me focus on new media/ social media research. I was known as the little social media geek.

    The last project they had me work on before I left was to put together a “social networking package” that they could sell to clients. Essentially, they were trying to package and sell social media – an idea that both confused and frustrated me. THE WORST part of it all was that my boss (and supervisor … and pretty much the entire company) had absolutely no clue how to use any of the social media tools.

    Needless to say, it probably has not done anything for business and I doubt they will ever nail down whatever they were attempting to achieve. People are too smart for that anyways. Like you said, we KNOW when we are being sold to …

    Great post! Thanks!

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  6. @Beer Wench – That doesn’t surprise me I guess. People who don’t understand think it can be packages or you can hire people to make friends for you.

    Does it make you uncomfortable if one of your good friends starts pitching you some Amway products at a dinner party? Thats how it feels.

    But then again, for something like Wine, I almost always buy from a friend’s recommendation and/or store. You can’t just package “making friends”. I understand the consulting firm mentality to be able to sell things but that is ridiculous.

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