Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of social media, and I’m reminded of where we were in the mid-90s with the advent of the web. I lived and worked through Web 1.0, and am feeling a sense of déjà vu as we play out the same routines with Web 2.0 and beyond: social media is getting the same basic adoption patterns, the same reactions and overreactions. It’s just different tools and terminology. We have a long way to go before everyone and their cousin uses social networks more than they email, or tweets more than they call, but nobody can deny the way we communicate has once again been changed forever.
Here’s how I’d illustrate where we are in terms of social media tool adoption and integration into the fabric of our work and lives, as compared to early web adoption:
When I listen to people get all excited about social media as if it were some newfangled discovery, I keep wanting to say “It’s just online community. We’ve had that for over 20 years now. We’re just getting it via new applications with more integrated features. But it’s community!” Friends, fans and followers? We used to call them community members or our online friends.
Despite having been in this same place before, I have to admit I’m still excited about the possibilities. My concern is where things could be headed if we’re not smart about how we use the new tools at our disposal — we could end up repeating many of the mistakes made during the Web 1.0 years. With that in mind, here are my ten things to avoid in social media:
- Avoid the fishbowl syndrome. Those of us “in the know” are starting to like the sound of our own voices, but we’re really just preaching to the converted (yes, just like I’m probably doing now). Just because we know about social media doesn’t mean everyone does, or even cares about it. We need to jump out of our fishbowls and smell the air of reality. Get out into the world beyond your tweeps. It will do you good.
- Avoid glut and overload. Just because it’s there, it doesn’t mean you have to be on it. It’s our own fault that we are overloaded by every new social network or social tool out there, because we keep joining them. We don’t need them all and neither do our clients. A few strategically and thoughtfully selected networks, applications or tools can go much further than dozens of them. You don’t have to be everywhere.
- Avoid knee-jerk reactions. Don’t be so fast to say “yes” to social media, but don’t be so fast to say “no” either. Like with any good business — or life — decision, take your time, weigh the aspects and options, do your homework, turn to trusted friends and advisers, then make a deliberate decision. Don’t get a Facebook Page just because everyone else has one. Understand what you are trying to achieve, research if your audience is not only on Facebook but actually paying attention to anything other than their virtual farm crops, then plan your approach. Planning takes time.
- Avoid overreaching and overstating. Just because we feel social media is important doesn’t mean it is to everyone else. Those of us using the tools are doing so for a myriad of reasons, so we can’t lump everyone on a social network or with a blog into one box. Good communications and good customer service are still where it’s at. The delivery methods have changed rapidly, but it still boils down to the Golden Rule: the “Please” and “Thank You,” and the smile.
- Avoid the shingle phenomenon. Don’t join the people who add “Social Media” next to their title or company name and suddenly, they’re an expert. Or worse, they shell out a few thousand to someone else who claims to offer Social Media Certification, then they sucker in a bunch of unsuspecting clients and bring them on a reckless ride after only 40 hours of “intensive training.” Just don’t do it.
- Avoid the big plunge. I’ve always advised my clients to dip a toe into the water first to see if it’s warm. Don’t just pull out all the stops with social media. Use a phased approach to adopt new tools, technologies and tactics. You need to warm up, work out the kinks. Jumping into the deep end before you can swim only means you’re likely to drown.
- Avoid the quick hit. Social media is not a campaign; it’s a commitment. Plan for the long term. Take your time, and be deliberate about your actions. Measure. Evaluate. Improve what you are doing. Listen. Respond. Interact. Connect. Be there for the long haul. Learn and grow with your audience, your customers, your constituents. You now have unprecedented access to your customers. Use wisely.
- Avoid the numbers game. Sure you can use automated following tools and maybe get a slew of people following you back. But they’re not listening. They don’t care. I’ve always said that I’d rather have 100 friends, fans or followers who care than 1000 who ignore me. Social media is not about the big numbers but what you do with the numbers you have — and what they do in return. Devoted actions of a few can have an exponential impact, far greater than inaction by many.
- Avoid the silos. Do not relegate social media to an afterthought. Do not get your communications or marketing team together, and then give the social media team the notes. Someone with social media savvy needs to be at the table from the start. Their knowledge and experience can better inform your brainstorming, can open new doors, can enhance old tactics or eliminate them all together.
- Avoid one-size-fits-all thinking. What’s good for your neighbor may not be good for you. What is good for one of your clients isn’t necessarily the right thing for all the rest. While it is tempting to squeeze social media into a formula or to make a template and mass produce campaigns, each company or organization or individual deserves a plan customized to their needs, tailored for their distinct audiences, and made to fit their capabilities. Greed drives automation, and automation drives mediocrity at best, expensive failures at worst.
Where do you think social media is right now? And what are you definitely trying to avoid?