I’m not exactly sure why I’m drawn to the social media arena and the strategies for how businesses should engage – it’s not even, for the most part, my day job right now. But I love to keep learning about the space as it evolves. It’s a constantly changing, nailing-jello-to-the-wall proposition, and yet, as it all changes, the simple underlying principles for successful engagement seem hard-coded.
When I think about all the uncertainty and complexity communicators face today, I often recall an advertising professor I had in college. He was a successful creative director at Leo Burnett in the 70s and 80s and loved telling stories about his heyday – the travel, the three-martini lunches, the creative work chunked into 30 and 60 increments for radio and TV. It seems like it must have been so simple at that time. Mass communication, developed within the comfortable and repeatable boundaries of a neatly compartmentalized, one-way echo chamber. How cozy. How boring.
Today, all hell has broken loose, and that’s far more interesting to me as a marketer, or communicator, or whatever it should be called today.
But new social networks continue to pile on top of each other. Now I’m scrambling to better understand Google+, the latest rage amongst the bleeding edge set.
How are most businesses, with actual resource constraints, supposed to keep up? Most of the world still thinks Twitter is something you get from drinking too much caffeine. And yet the early adopters are infatuated with the newest new thing already.
All these platforms have some commonalities. People are just talking to each other. Keeping to a couple of simple principles will help you adapt, and if it makes sense, adopt as new networks emerge:
- Listen first. Chris Brogan’s first rule of social media will always apply. Plug into a platform and then spend some time understanding how people and businesses are using it. What are people trying to get out of it? What are the subtle differences between the platforms? Google +, for example, seems more ready-made for sharing photos and video than Twitter does.
- When you’re ready, add value. Produce and share content in line with your brand. Engage with people and help as much as you can.
It's really not much more complicated than that. Sure, the technical ins-and-outs of the platforms vary somewhat, and delving into the details of how to share and connect in a way that supports your brand creates a million variants. That’s where the fun is -- experimenting, learning and moving ahead.
Then comes the question of which networks a business should engage in. Is it better to be an inch deep and a mile wide, or a mile deep and an inch wide? The answers vary depending on a lot of factors – your brand, your key audiences and the internal resources available, just to name a few. But if I had to pick a rule of thumb, I’d go deep in a small number of networks that help you best connect with your most important audiences – but listen everywhere.
So listen, learn and experiment as new networks take shape. Let some mistakes happen. And be glad your creativity isn't crammed into 30 or 60 second compartments. These are great times to be in marketing -- even if we can't drink martinis at lunch any longer.