11 July 2012

Small Talk and Social Media

Don’t you hate small talk?  I do, too.  But it teaches us something about Social Media.

The most banal of small talk happens in forced encounters.  Co-workers cross paths in the corridor or cafeteria.  Neighbors coming or going in their entryways.  “How are you doing?”  “Fine, thanks, and you?”  “Fine, thank you.”

The next level of small talk is more interesting because it reveals things about people.  Someone ventures a little more, maybe “We’re almost done with a big job” or “I’m hoping to get home in time for my son’s game”.

As that person steps away, perhaps off the elevator, what’s the response?  Nonchalant?  Good luck.  Cynical?  Good luck with that.  Encouraging?  Go for it! 

Small Talk and Social Media

Those exchanges reveal things about both people.  The degree to which the first one shares will tell us what matters to them.  The second person’s response is reflexive, in the moment, telling us if they are encouraging, friendly, sincere, cynical, robotic or humorless.

Much of Social Media is like this.  No one forces you into a how-are-you-oh-I’m-fine encounter.  You engage because you want to, on a topic that matters.  In the above examples, the first person is the one who blogged, tweeted or posted.  The second is the person who linked, retweeted or liked.

How does that work for your ongoing Social Media program?

3 Lessons for Marketers
  1. Have a personality.  Social Media happens via technology but humans drive it.  Humans have personalities.  What personality fits your business, brand or product?  If this sounds like social media claptrap to you, consider that your brand already has a personality.  For example, if you’ve ever written a Brand Positioning document, you probably included a Brand Character or Brand Personality.  (Normally these are just words on a page that never seem to come across in advertising.)  More practically, your brand expresses a personality by its interactions with consumers:  calls into the toll-free number or service center, package copy or retail representatives.  Like it or not, these add up to a personality.  Think hard about what makes sense for your business, and apply it to Social Media (as well as other channels).
  2. Put the right people on it.  Depending on the size of your business, you may handle the small talk yourself, or have one person handling it for you, perhaps even a department.  Whatever the scale, someone has to set the tone, following the personality you’ve prescribed.  Obviously this person has to be a skilled communicator, which takes emotional intelligence and a sense of judgment.  There will always be some deviations, but over time the personality should be clear and consistent.
  3. Figure out what you’re going to say.  The worst kind of small talk is the self-absorbed, it’s-all-about-me variety.  In the same way, few people will engage if you’re just talking about your product or service.  People go places on the Internet to be informed or entertained.  Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but it’s also a good place to start.  How can you make it worth someone’s while to engage with your blog, Twitter or Facebook page? 

To that point, above all:  Be authentic.  If your personality is wrong, everything you do will seem forced.

What have been your best and worst experiences using Social Media?  What did you learn from them?

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