Lately, I’ve been ranting (again) about social media’s need to improve. This usually happens every 6 months or so, and then I get distracted by paying work and holidays, only to return and find that nothing much has changed.
So this time, instead of shaking my fists at the sun, I thought I’d explain 5 ways YOU can get better at social media. Keep in mind that my idea of “better” may not match yours, because I may have different social media goals and expectations than you do. In fact, that’s almost a guarantee — so why don’t we start there?
1. For God’s Sake, Have a Purpose.
Years ago, everyone was telling you to “dive in” to the social media fishbowl and “join the conversation.”
“But why?” you’d reply. “I have nothing to say.”
“You don’t have anything to say… yet,” they’d respond cryptically.
Looking back, this is entirely logical: the early adopters of social media were altruistic, but they were also keenly interested in driving traffic to their own blogs and podcasts in order to validate this burgeoning medium. If you bought into it, they’d look like geniuses who were years ahead of the curve.
We’re a little past that point now.
Today, the white noise is excruciating. The tools we could be using to revolutionize communication are instead being used to complain about bad hair and shoddy customer service. People blog, podcast, tweet and Flickr because they feel obliged to, or because they’re aching to be noticed and validated by others, desperate for a rewteet to prove they’re still alive.
Find a purpose. Set a goal. Decide what “social media success” would mean to you, personally. Then make choices that support your pursuit of that goal.
And if you don’t have something to say, it’s okay. No one’s making you talk anymore. The conversation has been joined to death.
2. Stop Confusing Media with Marketing.
Media is something you make. Marketing is something you do.
Media is communication. Marketing is sales.
You can create media, and you can market the media you create. You can even create media in order to market the products and services featured in that media.
But believing that this guy and this guy are both “doing social media” is like believing that Damien Hirst and your five-year-old are both “revolutionizing art.” The tools may be the same, but their intentions are completely different. Lumping them together does a disservice to both sides.
3. Let Someone Else Be the Expert.
You probably have some amazing insights to share with your audience, right? Or maybe you have a solution to a problem that no one’s ever thought of before. And now you can’t wait to post about it and then immediately buff the pixelated star on your digital door that reads “expert.”
Do us all a favor: don’t.
In social media, everybody’s an expert, and they’ve been writing for years about the exact same thing you’re writing about now. There’s absolutely no reason to write the same post your peers have already written a hundred times, except for the pleasure of hearing yourself say it.
If every author in the history of mankind had decided that they were going to publish their own book of fairy tales, simply because they wanted to be known as Fairy Tale Experts, we might not have needed The Brothers Grimm. But we sure as hell wouldn’t have needed 33 million volumes of fairy tales either.
4. Comment Selflessly.
Remember when I told you to stop talking if you had nothing important to say? I still mean it. But if you resent being shushed, here’s your loophole: say something that matters.
Blog comments have long been the wasteland of linkbait from attention whores and meaningless accolades from people who can’t otherwise improve the dialogue.
So improve the dialogue.
Mark Blevis has a great policy: he strives to leave five meaningful comments a week on the blogs he reads. Five meaningful comments doesn’t sound like a lot until you consider the time it takes to actually read the posts he’s commenting on, evaluate the information, develop a response and type it up in a thoughtful manner. It might take a grand total of an hour, but that’s an hour Mark spent helping his peers improve, rather than insisting they read the blog post he just wrote about that exact same thing last week.
Comments are intended to be about something. Try making your comments about something other than your own inbound traffic.
5. Kill One of Your Channels.
Thanks to social media’s continued convergence, you can now tweet from Facebook, watch YouTube on your blog and Flickr your way through Google Buzz. As a result, all channels have become one large funnel, and it’s impossible to decide which of a person’s channels you should follow because they’re all essentially the same.
Tim Maly suggests unlinking your channels, so that each one has merit unto itself. But that creates another problem: no one is interesting enough to pretend to be interesting differently across multiple platforms.
So kill one.
Maybe it’s the one you rarely use, or the one where you get the least amount of feedback, or the one that takes the most time to maintain. Google makes you omnipresent to begin with, so how many additional ways do you need to be found?
Will the world really miss your Flickr stream? Will your unwatched YouTube channel be mourned? Will orphans wail in the street if they can’t find you on LinkedIn?
If you’re not using something, or you’re not benefiting from the use of something, kill it. The time and effort you save can be put to better use being legitimately interesting elsewhere.
And that’s the kind of “better” I’d like to think we can all agree on.
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