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Shut Up and Listen; this is Social Media

On social media you’re never really more than two steps away from controversy. The reason for this is simple; it’s run by humans. It’s a community populated by people who say, do, and yes, laugh at, silly things. In order to get anything from it, businesses need to integrate themselves by listening and learning how to inspire those people…

Social media is more than just a bulletin board. In order to create a community of advocates for their brand, a business first needs to realise that social networking was never intended to accommodate organisations. It was developed to satisfy the developing needs and priorities of each generation.

Human beings are stubborn about the things that belong to them, and that includes social media. They aren’t going to suddenly start entertaining blatant messages of self-promotion on their turf just because the frequency of them has increased. So to be successful businesses need to adapt their messages in a way that compliments and vitalises these networks.

Passive businesses constantly shouting about sales and offers verges on self-obsession

If you’ll humour me for a moment, I’d like to use a rather strained analogy. You’re walking home after work incredibly hungry and tired when suddenly a man leaps out of a bush and tells you to buy his chicken sandwich. He gives no inclination why, he just seems pretty darn passionate about his sandwich.

Do you buy it? Regardless of how hungry you are, you don’t. Rather, you wonder who this guy is, what’s wrong with the sandwich and why on earth he was lurking in a bush. You either ignore him entirely, run away, or tell him how much of an inconvenience he is for standing in the way of the perfectly good chicken sandwich you already have waiting for you at home. Why? Because you have no idea who he is.

The same is true of some businesses on social media. They are too infatuated by what they can offer that they forget that to people who don’t know them they are just another nuisance chicken-sandwich wielding bush-lurker. Every now and then they need to put their sandwich down, listen to the people around them and offer them something they actually want – not what the business wants them to want.

Telling people about you isn’t the same as encouraging them to get to know you

Most businesses are more than aware of the importance of introducing themselves. The problem is that some don’t quite know the right way to go about this. Take every day social interaction – when you meet a new person it’s the little things they say, the sort of discussions they engage with and their interests that encourage you to form a relationship with them. You’re not best buds from the moment you introduced yourselves.

Social media is no different. The things that you share should be inspiring enough to encourage users to want to engage with you, to want to remember your brand, to want to become your advocate. A list of possible content ideas would be both immeasurable and redundant, as it’s always originality that really takes the biscuit. As a general rule great social media content focuses on people not products, inspiration not integration, and stories, not sales.

Millennials lurking in the shadows

Regardless of whether you think that the world is going to hell in a handbasket because they’ll soon be in charge of things, there’s a reason more and more brands are harking “millennial”. It’s not some defamatory phrase describing vacuous younger people who might prefer not to be clean shaven, or feel more comfortable in shorts than a suit, or (god forbid) like coffee instead of tea – it’s simply a term for a naturally digitally-inclined generation that happen to be a potentially lucrative target audience.

In general, they don’t prefer hand-written sentiments (blame an institutional emphasis on word processing), they like more instantaneous methods of communication of information. This means that they prefer to share the things they like with their peers immediately. Without them, the terms “trending” and “viral” would still merely refer to clothing and illness.

But creating a content mix that entertains, inspires and provokes a response is just the beginning. After that comes the social part. People want to talk to your brand, discuss your campaigns and your products. And you need to be receptive to these comments, as this interaction is what can spell the difference between a user latching onto your brand or becoming disengaged.

There’s a reason we refer to businesses as brands on social media. They’re not some faceless multinational conglomerate; they are simply an organisation personified.

Ask yourself; do you spend too much time talking about what your business does? If so, cut your audience some slack. The likelihood is they already know, or if they don’t they should be able to figure it out just by reading your ‘about us’ section. And if they can’t then that is a much wider issue coming directly from your brand. Every professional knows they should be able to sum up what their business does in a few simple sentences.

Anything social involves a reciprocal discourse, so start listening to your users.

If you fall into the habit of referring to social media as an advertising channel, it’s time to step back. Similarly, if you get it into your mind that it’s a collection of networks built for marketing, give yourself a good slap on the cheek. Yes, social media is partly those things, but above everything it is a community.

If you don’t know what to share, look inward at your organisation. What do your people like? What takes their interest? What inspires them on social networking? Take those things, no matter how foreign they seem to your brand as a whole, and construct an original online voice. Then do the same with your current social media target audience. Listen to them and create content that responds to them.

After that, you can shut shutting up and start to seriously make some noise – the right noise.

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