14 social media lessons we can all learn

Ian Lurie

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 to me. The secret is that social media is 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.

Todo: Learn to use Feedly (my favorite, no promotion here) or another monitoring tool. Sign up for Twitter and track a few cool lists.

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 cat care. 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.

Learn to use Tweetdeck and you can post to Facebook, Twitter and other outlets from one location. Learn to use Feedly or another good feed reader and you can track lots of conversations from one place, without burning out your frontal lobe. Learn to use Buffer and you can schedule and manage your posts to LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

Always find ways to make participation easier.

Todo: Download and install Tweetdeck and Buffer. Learn to use at least one of them, on at least 2 different social networks.

11. Start using photos.

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Learn to use your smartphone’s 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

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. Curious to see what you have to say re: Facebook now that they’ve changed their homepage format to hide most status updates (including those from pages). They say they’ll only show an item in newsfeed if it gets a lot of comments, which is going to be tough to get if no one sees the item. A real chicken and egg problem. Think FB will continue to be even worth investing in? Think most users are on news or live feed? Personally I use live because I want to see what ALL of my friends say, not just what FB thinks I want to read. That said, many users don’t even realize FB has done this to their feed so they’re missing items they want to see and don’t even realize it.

  2. @Meredith
    Yeah, the newest interface of facebook home really looks ugly.
    Some status gos to News feed while the others goes to live feed. They’re mixed and confusing.

  3. Excellent list, Ian. At first glance it may seem a bit overwhelming, however, point 8 really helps. Scheduling a routine makes it much easier to stay on top of these and if you stick with your routine it will help you develop better content as well.

  4. I’ve done a bit of Facebook, but apart from my near acquaintances am not sure that there is a lot of interest in what I’ve got to say. Maybe, I’m just saying the wrong things.
    Facebook seems to me a novice to be used by many in the same way that Twitter would be although with complete sentences. I’ve read a bit about Twitter, but not sure how to really make the medium work. I can’t follow half the conversations that are going on and the other half appear to be absolute tripe anyway. So whilst I’d like to listen before talking, I can’t seem to understand what is being said? Is that just me?
    Note to self… must try harder.

  5. Hey Ian, Thank you for sharing your thoughts on social media. You gave some valuable suggestions and tips to make success in online marketing through social media. I do know some of the tips which you mentioned but, I also learnt some unknown tips from you. Your post will help emerging internet marketing consultants. Thank you very much for your post.

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