5 Unorthodox Ways to Fix Social Media

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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  • http://www.hallicious.com Hallicious

    What if we actively reject the imposition of standards or rules because we secretly want to be responsible for creating them. After all, anybody can be a social media expert… right?

    Standards are nice, but I don't know that they're the ultimate answer. Just watching an episode of Holmes on Homes will illustrate how human beings skirt around the letter of the law to make a quick buck off the next guy in any field. Plus standards imply that there will be some sort of organization to enforce them. Dreaming up ways for that to be even 5% possible in social media today will make your head spin.

    For starters, although EVERYBODY may not be aiming higher than the basement, PEOPLE most assuredly are… Since getting EVERYBODY to aim higher isn't realistic, for various reasons, it seems the quest can be limited to getting MORE PEOPLE to aim higher.

    So the problem to solve revolves around quantifying MORE PEOPLE and understanding our progress in getting them to achieve our goal for them.

  • Andre

    @Hallicious “I'm curious if improvement can occur without a documented baseline from which to start.”

    I believe that type of improvement occurs quite frequently on a daily basis. People are constantly striving to improve themselves in one area or another without a “documented baseline”. They just want to better themselves. When it comes to personal goals, the “baseline” is often our current level of proficiency, whatever that may be. Each of us must assess our individual weaknesses and set our own goals and success criteria for improvement.

    That being said, “standards” are problematic in social media for quite a few reasons. To me one of the biggest reason is the fact that there are mutliple audience segments for any given topic. Just like real world conversations, the tone of SM conversations vary from audience to audience. Some people like to mix humor with politics; others take a more serious approach. Some people like lots of facts and statistics, while others are comfortable with a loose discussion of ideas and theories.

    My point is that, at least in my opinion, there will always be a “basement” when it comes to the quality of content in social meda. Which means it's up to the content producer to decide where they want to play. If you want to get out of the basement and attract a better audience, then you will have to set some standards for yourself and your content. You will have to to learn what your target audience wants and then committ to producing whatever they consider “quality”. If your current skills aren't at the level your target audience desires, then you have a choice to make. Step up (personal improvement) or revise your goals and retreat to the basement. BTW…there's nothing wrong with the basement if that's where you want to be.

    There will always be mindless, idle, less-than-productive chatter in the social media space. As much as I hate to say that, I can't deny it. But (again this is just my opinion) if a person loves social media; if they see the transformational power that it offers; if they truly want to engage others in intelligent discussion and exploration, then why wouldn't they want to improve their converation skills and challenge themselves to be better?

    I think it really comes down to this. “Why are you here?” That's the question that everyone producing content in this space needs to ask themselves. Basement, third floor, or penthouse? Where you want to be doesn't matter. Just answer the question and then act accordingly.

    Thanks Justin for a great post. Personally, I would also like to see less chatter and more substance.

  • davepollard

    Thanks for this courageous, witty and insightful post, Justin. Much of this is about two important aspects of coping successfully in the 21st century: generosity (including listening and appreciation), and valuing your time — two things most of us are pretty lousy at.

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  • albrocious

    Good post as always, there is constant battle between social media and social marketing. I think you addressed it well and honestly.

    One other aspect that social media “experts” get wrong is advertising. Advertising and marketing are different, marketing is a lot of homework and listening to drive the advertising. A good social marketer will know how to grab the comments people are making learn form them. Many Social (marketing) Media “experts” will just preach outlets and conversations, not really getting out of them.

  • http://justinkownacki.blogspot.com Justin Kownacki

    Egad… If we start subdividing social media from social marketing from social advertising from social sales, we're gonna need a bigger boat (of SEO tricks)…

    But yes, you're right. Personally, I'd just be happy if we could regularly make the distinction between media and marketing, but there's something to be said for greater clarity all around.

  • http://www.justinkownacki.com Justin

    Andre: Thanks for your thoughtful response. It’s undeniably true that we’ll always have a basement in any field, and we’ll always have people who don’t have the interest, drive or gumption to climb up from it. But for those who do, and who are able to ask themselves “why am I here” and “where do I want to go,” those of us who feel we may be have some answers need to provide them in a clear, actionable way.

    It’s like a human chain of always getting better. We just need to start clasping hands.

  • Sue Ann

    Right on. :D

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  • Matt

    I think your 5th point is the most meaningful. Trying to be engaged in every form of social media is like trying to master the Dewey decimal system, more work than it is worth. Focusing on one or two channels will create more worthwhile content and eliminate some of the white noise, plus why be mediocre at everything when you can be really good at one?

  • DaffronMkt

    I describe social media to my clients as a cocktail party. You simply cannot run up to everyone and pitch endlessly. It is a conversation. Reputation building.

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  • justinphyatt

    Listen, I agree with you on a few points, such as EVERYONE seems to be an “expert” on social media when we all know that noone is an expert on the various sites that have come out just in the past few years. But I also disagree with you on a few things.

    I am a college student and I know that now more than ever you have to brand yourself, and to brand yourself means to spread your name across multiple mediums including several different social media venues.

    I completely agree with number two and number four. I believe marketing and social media are very different and should be used in different ways. I also believe that people should comment only if they have something to say that is different or adds to the already stated information. I know I'm just ranting, but I hate to say it, you have it wrong on a few too. There is a need for widespread branding in today's job market, and the more exposure one can gain, the more experienced they look. I read recently in a cosmopolitan that one of the “kick-ass” jobs available is a social media job which includes tweeting, facebook commenting, googling a companies “brand” and much more.

    I am a public relations/journalism major and social media continues to grow and show me that IT is the future. I'm sorry for your anger towards social media, but it is much bigger than anyone can imagine and it will continue to grow until the next wave, or as I call it, web 3.0, shows it's face.

  • http://justinkownacki.blogspot.com Justin Kownacki

    Justin: I do social media for a living. I love the possibilities, but
    I hate the limited way most people make use of the tools.

    You say “the more exposure one can gain, the more experienced they
    look.” That's true… if you don't know what you're looking at.

    Being everywhere isn't the same as being relevant. Creating buzz
    isn't the same as creating results. It's easy to fool people into
    believing you know what you're talking about; it's hard to stay
    employed that way for long.

    Feel free to enter the social media industry, but if you do, please
    create work that matters. We have more than enough work — and more
    than enough practitioners — who aren't worth anyone else's time,
    money or interest. And by the time we reach Web 3.0 and beyond, the
    noise will only get louder.

  • Anonymous

    Listen, I agree with you on a few points, such as EVERYONE seems to be an “expert” on social media when we all know that noone is an expert on the various sites that have come out just in the past few years. But I also disagree with you on a few things. nnI am a college student and I know that now more than ever you have to brand yourself, and to brand yourself means to spread your name across multiple mediums including several different social media venues.nnI completely agree with number two and number four. I believe marketing and social media are very different and should be used in different ways. I also believe that people should comment only if they have something to say that is different or adds to the already stated information. I know I’m just ranting, but I hate to say it, you have it wrong on a few too. There is a need for widespread branding in today’s job market, and the more exposure one can gain, the more experienced they look. I read recently in a cosmopolitan that one of the “kick-ass” jobs available is a social media job which includes tweeting, facebook commenting, googling a companies “brand” and much more. nnI am a public relations/journalism major and social media continues to grow and show me that IT is the future. I’m sorry for your anger towards social media, but it is much bigger than anyone can imagine and it will continue to grow until the next wave, or as I call it, web 3.0, shows it’s face.

  • http://justinkownacki.blogspot.com Justin Kownacki

    Justin: I do social media for a living. I love the possibilities, butrnI hate the limited way most people make use of the tools.rnrnYou say “the more exposure one can gain, the more experienced theyrnlook.” That’s true… if you don’t know what you’re looking at.rnrnBeing everywhere isn’t the same as being relevant. Creating buzzrnisn’t the same as creating results. It’s easy to fool people intornbelieving you know what you’re talking about; it’s hard to stayrnemployed that way for long.rnrnFeel free to enter the social media industry, but if you do, pleaserncreate work that matters. We have more than enough work — and morernthan enough practitioners — who aren’t worth anyone else’s time,rnmoney or interest. And by the time we reach Web 3.0 and beyond, thernnoise will only get louder.

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