14 social media lessons we can all learn
Ian Lurie Nov 2 2009
Yep, my least favorite marketing term finally gets its own list. Aside from my occasional outpouring of hatred.
Truth is, though, whatever you want to call it, social media is teaching us how marketing should work, and how it’s always worked. Here’s a list of my thoughts on the subject:
1. It’s just media.
Listen to Gary Vaynerchuck. And Steve Rubel. And to me. The secret is that it’s just media.
What we call ‘social media’ is a fantastic evolution of media. It’s media distilled down to a bazillion conversations, all going on, all at once. Sounds chaotic? That’s because it is.
Todo: Read about the Federalist Papers. Learn about Martin Luther. Research smoke signals. Heck, read Snow Crash and learn about the Nam Shubs of Enki. All social media. We 21st Century folk not as clever as we think.
2. If you want to talk, first learn to listen.
That evolution (see #1) means everyone can see through you.
Leap into a conversation on, say, Twitter, without understanding the history. Type message. Insert foot, 140 characters at a time. Your audience will figure out you’re full of crap in a big hurry.
So learn to listen, first.
3. If you want to talk, learn the language.
Social media conversations whiz by. ZZzzzzip. See? There goes one now.
Be brief and to the point. Don’t use 10 words if 2 will do.
Todo: Learn to be brief.
4. Answer questions. Contribute.
When you do talk, answer questions. Help out.
Think of each social media conversation as a construction project: It’s built one Tweet, blog post or smoke signal at a time. If whatever you’re about to write won’t help build that conversation, think twice before you click ‘send’ or ‘publish’ or whatever.
Even silly conversations are construction projects. Ever been in a public place with 2 friends, joking around and laughing hysterically about the course a conversation just took? What happens when a stranger walks up and says “Yeah!” or something equally brilliant? End of conversation.
Social media’s no different. Actually, that conversation was social media. And some nubwit just tore down your structure. Sheesh.
Todo: Every day, find 3 people looking for answers on Twitter, Facebook or wherever you hang out. Either give them a useful answer yourself, or refer them to someone you think might help. Contribute!
5. Start conversations that matter (as much as possible)
Maybe you’re cursing about the NY Giants (like me) or chatting about NASA’s latest Ares rocket launch. Either way, make sure your conversation matters.
‘Matters’ means ‘someone else will care’.
We’ve got enough folks talking about their breakfast. Nuthin’ wrong with that, I guess. Just try to mix in some real stuff, OK?
Todo: Start at least one conversation that gets a response from other people.
6. Don’t look for instant dollars.
Whenever someone dismisses social media with a statement like “I just don’t see the payoff”, I want to scream.
No, I don’t believe in the economy of free. But there’s more to business, and life, than dollars.
And you can’t expect a quick payoff, either.
For business, social media is like a networking event that never stops. Start conversations that matter, contribute, and you gain trust, acceptance and reputation. That’s when the payoff begins.
If you’re a consultant, leads start trickling in. If you’re a retailer, folks start showing up saying they heard about you online. If you run a food truck, guess what? You’ll have folks lining up around the corner.
Todo: Put a blank piece of paper on your desk. Every time you get a ‘thank you’ from a social media conversation, put a check mark. Give yourself a Kit Kat for each check. See how many check marks you need before you get something tangible. I’ll bet it’s around 100…
7. No takebacks.
Once you click ‘submit’ or ‘send’ or ‘publish’, it’s out there for everyone to see. If you said something hurtful/stupid/embarrassing you can delete it later, sure.
But chances are, 10 people forwarded your note along, or republished it. Or a search engine found your gaffe and cached it forever more.
There are no takebacks in social media. Use a racial slur in front of a kid with a video camera, and bam, you’re on YouTube forever.
Luckily, you can pause before forever entering the Halls of Stupidity.
Todo: Get a timer. When you’re even a little nervous about what you wrote, set the timer to 15 minutes. Don’t publish until the timer goes ‘ding’. Still feel OK with it?…
8. Set a routine.
Leave Twitter running all day and it’ll take over your life. Trust me. Instead, set a routine. Set a goal for your involvement: Once a day. Twice a day. Whatever’s easy.
Todo: Go into your calendar and schedule time every X hours or X days or X minutes to go listen and respond. Stick to it. Don’t do it more or less than you scheduled. Try that for at least a week. Then dial your time up or down as needed.
9. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
You. Aren’t. That. Important. Sorry, it’s just true. I’m not either. If there are 5 million people online right now, chances are one of them knows more than you about your conversation of the moment.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. This isn’t a courtroom. It’s a bunch of people standing around with drinks in their hand, chatting about everything from sports to lingerie to world peace.
Todo: Read your last 3 days’ Tweets. Make fun of at least one of them, in public.
10. Assemble a toolset.
Make social media outlets your beeyatch. Learn to use Tweetdeck or Seesmic and you can post to Facebook, Twitter and other outlets from one location. Learn to use Google Reader or another good feed reader and you can track lots of conversations from one place, without burning out your frontal lobe.
Always find ways to make participation easier.
11. Start using photos.
Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Learn to use Flickr, Twitpic and Facebook photo albums. Well, learn one of ‘em, at least.
And learn to use your cell phone camera, will ya?
Todo: Go for a walk. See something cool. Snap a quick photo and upload it to the network of your choice.
12. Spread the love.
Social networks live on connections. If someone you know writes something cool, or is just generally an all around good guy, let other folks know.
Todo: Learn what Follow Friday is.
13. Find new friends
In any social environment, it’s easy to get comfortable and stick with who you know. But you need to branch out.
Every new person you meet is a potential guide to a whole new community or mini-audience.
Todo: Follow/reply to/friend at least one truly relevant, interesting person each day.
DO NOT use automatic friend/follow software. The stupidity police will find you and carry you away in their whisper choppers to their secret base far below the Earth’s surface. You’ll never be seen again.
14. That’s all, folks
Where do you go from here? It’s up to you. Everyone converses in their own way. All I’m saying is get out there and join the conversation. Learn your style, find your friends and the rest will fall into place.
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Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More