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Chapter 21: The Dos and Don’ts of Social Media
“All righty then. Social media.” I said.
“I hate social media,” Chuck said.
“I don’t understand it. It’s so easy to sink thousands of dollars into things that don’t work, only to find some 22-year-old’s cat video go viral after he spent five bucks. “
“You don’t understand how it works, but you understand that it works.”
“I understand it can work, but I’m suspicious that most of it working is luck.”
“And what does Lombardi say about luck?”
“Luck is where opportunity and preparation meet.”
“That’s the one.”
“SO, you’re saying you can show me how to prepare on social media so things work out when the opportunity appear.”
“Okay. I’m listening.”
Social media is either the best thing or the worst thing to happen to small businesses in the last 100 years.
- It’s the best thing because it has fully democratized publicity. Even a home-based microbusiness can potentially reach billions with the right viral content, and can foster a dedicated community of fans and advocates.
- It’s the worst thing because doing it wrong, or not doing it at all, gives all your competitors who does it right a significant advantage over you.
There’s a lot of art and science to doing it right, enough that entire books and e-courses have been written on the topic. For now, let’s look at the top-level, strategic dos and don’ts of building a social media community.
Do name your community
The difference between “I’m a person who enjoys Monty Python” and “I’m a member of the International Ministry of Silly Walks (Parrot Division)” is immense. A named community gives a sense of belonging and begins the journey toward advocacy and rabid fandom. It’s also easier to show on a business card or web post.
Don’t skimp on organization and goals
There’s a persistent myth about social media that you can’t or shouldn’t subject it to standard business goal-setting, organization, benchmarks, and measurements. This is a myth. Your social media community strategy should be as formal and powerful as your strategy for any other branding effort.
Do ask (lots of) questions
Questions foster discussion. Discussion creates engagement. Engagement builds community. When you post, end as many posts as possible with a question for your social media community members to answer. When you respond to posts within the community, respond in a way that invites answers. This is a lot like the old cocktail party rule of asking two questions for each statement you make, and it works for exactly the same reasons.
Never post anything you’re not prepared to follow up on. Posting something and then ignoring community responses is worse than never posting anything at all. The point of all this is to foster connection and build a community. That won’t happen if there’s no difference between your social media and a television ad.
Do act as a matchmaker
Not romantically — unless that’s your business model. At the top level, the existence of your community acts as an interest-based matchmaker by connecting people who are passionate about you and what you do. Within that broad scope, also find ways to help connect people over other commonalities. The easiest one is shared location, so community members can meet up in real life. Other commonalities will appear as you watch the posts and communications, and think about what makes your brand valuable and unique.
Don’t be too professional
You can never be too professional if you define “professional” as “maintaining appropriate communications” and “not blowing your top when challenged.” On social media, though, you can easily be professional by lacking transparency, responsiveness, and a personal voice. One easy example is using “I” instead of “we” in social media communication. It recognizes that the exchange is between two human beings.
Do focus on relationships
This seems obvious, but based on many social media feeds I’ve seen, it isn’t obvious enough. Your social community is about your relationship with your fans, their relationship with the brand, and their relationship with each other. Every strategy and tactic should serve as many of those relationships as possible. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Well, almost never automate. It’s okay to batch-complete your social media shares and schedule them according to your content calendar. But always create an alert to have somebody watch those shares when they go out, and never, ever, EVER automate your responses to engagement around what you post.
Do optimize your accounts
Apply the most recent content optimization strategies to your accounts, profiles, and shared content. What you do for your other online content, you should also do for your social media.
Don’t be afraid to pay
Watch your spending carefully — many social media pay-to-play programs are scams — but the right ones can boost viewership and membership by thousands of members over the course of a year. “Social media should be 100% free” is another myth you need to disbelieve for successful social media strategy.
Do prospect influencers and thought leaders
I’m not telling you to stalk the people who are most influential in your industry and community…but you should definitely stalk the people who are most influential in your industry and community. Watch their feeds. Share their blogs. Comment insightfully within their communities. At worst, this leads to interesting conversations with people you respect. At best, it can create a mutually profitable partnership…and bring some of their fans over into your community.
Don’t miss trending topics
This strategy is so common it has a slang term: “newsjacking.” Whether you’re an online content company (ahem) posting about how many tweets the Super Bowl or presidential election got, or a legal firm posting on a recent scandal, it pays to write about what other people are reading. This isn’t cheating. It’s solid strategy.
Do track and measure
Social media is absolutely measurable and trackable if you know what the various metrics mean. Don’t fall for the myth that it isn’t. Set goals, create metrics to track your progress toward those goals, review both regularly, and recalibrate to match.
As I said earlier, the detailed how-to and resources for each of these are beyond the scope of this book, and are the job of the expert minions with whom you have surrounded yourself. Just keep these navigation points in mind while building your social media community strategy, and hold your people accountable to these guiding lights.
How to Build a Community
The great thing is that if you already have an existing business with customers, then you are halfway there. Quite frequently we find the largest ROI on a marketing campaign is targeting existing customers and letting them know of additional services your company provides.
Most people do this, but do it poorly. They contact existing or previous clients only to sell them things (which is always off-putting. you have that one friend like that, and you resent him.) Or they do it in a random way, unconnected to the overall strategy. Or they only do it once in a while, when somebody thinks to do it.
Here are some of the best ways I’ve found to systematically build a community and keep it vibrant.
- Include all leads in your community emails. Not everyone is market-qualified, but everyone can be a member of your community.
- Leverage the content you create, using all of your thought leadership content to bring people into your sales funnel.
- Never sell, but always add value and work to establish yourself as a trusted guide and expert.
- Segment your community so the right people get the right content. This keeps people from mentally dumping your updates into the “spam” bucket.
- Reward participation with recognition and tangible prizes for the people who are most actively engaged.
- Use surveys and simple questions to ask your community how you can do better.
- Provide up-sell opportunities This is tough to balance against the directive to never be sales-y, but can tap a gold mine of previously unrealized income.
- Leverage old content from time to time, so new members can interact with your most successful and popular content.
Building community is like tending a garden. If neglected, the flowers and fruits and veggies can die. You’ll have an empty plot of land that’s useless except for sucking up some of your time and regret a few times each year. In the worst cases, the weeds you let grow can choke things out and kill the entire project.
But with careful feeding, watering, weeding, and planning, that garden can grow into the kind of crop that feeds your family for a long time.