Thanks Chris – Here are my Social Media Best Practices… YMMV, 1. Commitment
This is not a campaign. It is not an event. It is not a fixed period in time when effort will be thrown against X product or idea. It is an ongoing effort, a conversation, a multi-faceted dialog. If you go into a Social Media project and think there is an end-state you are painfully missing the point. The users want to engage. They want to play with you. And they want to do it on their terms. They will connect when it is convenient for them. They might not come back for months, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love ya – they will be telling everyone they know. A Social Media effort will never be Cap-Ex – it is ongoing, evergreen, committed.

Imagine being in a bar, talking to someone and halfway through the conversation they go silent and walk away, mid-sentence. Thats a real-world example of what happens when a social media effort ends… It isnt supposed to. The party can move to another bar, apartment, social media platform but you dont want to leave the users mid-conversation.

At Gnomedex recently, a friend told me about a client of his who really wanted to blog like their competitor. And he took them through what this meant – commitment, honesty, authenticity, being real and talking back to the users. At the end of the day, the client admitted they weren’t ready to be that transparent, authentic, or committed. They admitted that they weren’t ready and had a ways to go and needed to take their time to get there. As someone who has done a LOT of client work this is a huge moment and I applaud the agency and the client for getting to the point of not doing something because the other kids are doing it.

Not committing to doing something halfway is committing to a real respect for the user.

2. WHO (at the beginning)?
Spend some effort, not a brainstorm session, not an afternoon, but some serious sleeves-rolled-up, sweating, chugging coffee, fingers stained with dry-erase marker time to get an understanding of the user you want to meet. Try more time than it takes to get to 90% on your LinkedIn or Match.com profile. You want to reach people, communicate WITH them, get them interested – it kinda pays off if you actually make the attempt to understand them upfront.

3. Outreach
I will spend a bigger blog post on this because it is so important (and I have mentioned it in lots ‘o places) but Outreach needs to be a part of whatever you do in Social Media. No one ever woke up and had 100s of friends. You need to reach out to them, listen to what they are into, what is ticking them off or getting them excited.

Dive in, get engaged, participate with them, get active, listen, talk, be humble, ask questions, PM people, contact the leaders of the tribe or community. If you want to connect with tribesmen in a remote civilization in the South Pacific, using a megaphone from a chopper is a bad idea. You need to get in there, show you want to be a part of something OTHER than yourself (or company). Give a little to get a little. Pay it forward with your attention to (hopefully) get their attention.

Comment on their blog posts. Thank them for their comments. Give the links to things you have found that are relevant (NOT CORP SPAM – but real valuable pointers). Spend more time pointing out the cool things that are happening OUTSIDE your four walls. Be a human being that is interesting BECAUSE he/she is INTERESTING.

We all laugh when we see another Tweet or Blog Post where “clueless huge PR Firm XXX pitched me and NEVER read my blog!”. BUT WE DO THIS TO USERS ALL THE TIME. We either don’t give them a payoff for their attention, take them for granted, think our ideas were so precious-“how could they not love us” or we make some cultural gaffe that signals we didn’t do our homework/didn’t try hard enough. It all rolls up to research and respect and humility and EMPATHY – if we can’t relate to them, how can we communicate with them.

Don’t be another half-assed ad campaign.

4. WHO? (in-progress)
So we spent the time, did the research, looked at the places and spaces these users live, we joined them at their jamboree, hoe-down, gathering of the pack, etc. We begin to scratch the surface…

And then we execute the plan according to the messaging guidelines and creative brief, making sure the touchpoints and brand impressions are expressed.

= EPIC FAIL

Once you start listening, once you begin engagement, once you take a minute to try to understand the user it doesn’t stop there. You need to keep listening, keep connecting, keep trying to understand them and how they are changing (and they are changing). Users aren’t static. They don’t live on a timeline or production calendar or release cycle. If we commit to the long term risks and benefits of a conversation then we need to live with them long term and LISTEN long term.

5. GOALS
Nail down the goals on a segment by segment basis. One size fits most sucks, and on the web the suckage is even more pronounced. Don’t start with an end-state in mind, rather start with an opening state (100 users adding comments, enough activity for a full-time moderator, 1000 subscribers to the newsletter) and a bunch of empty bullet points to fill in as you learn and grow the effort.

6. Tactics
Identify, based on the work you have done to engage and understand the user what are the best ways to reach them – Blogging? Wiki? Virtual World?, In-Game efforts? Meetups? Twebinars? Twitter? Video? Widgets? Facebook?

In the 80s, when Desktop Publishing exploded (thanks Apple) you could use multiple fonts on a document – AND EVERYONE DID. It was painful, company newsletter started looking like ransom notes – bad news. Just because you can use every platform, mashup, codebase, meme and tactic in the world doesn’t mean you should. Put the user in the center of your efforts, identify the touchpoints they are in, make smart bets and ASK THE USERS ABOUT OTHER CHANNELS to connect to them.

7. The User Is The Platform
Map to their needs, their devices and their ideas. Don’t make them come to you. Put lots of lines in the water and breadcrumbs on the path… if what you are doing connects with them they will follow back (and bring their friends). Remember the “WTF? Rule” – if you are doing something and say to yourself “WTF?” then you should probably reconsider.

The user makes choices and commitments without you in the decision. They are a Photobucket guy or a Flickr kid. They live on MySpace or FB or LinkedIn. If you want to reach them you need to be where they are (and again – not everywhere, but focused, relevant, & humble)

Video? Don’t just host it on your site, make it shareable, embeddable, linkable and even indexable (at least have a transcript or use a service like http://www.DotSub.com). Share it with YouTube, get it on iTunes, post it to Facebook, make it shareable via RSS, email, AIM, etc. Let your users leave comments via Seesmic or Eyejot, create a channel for them to engage.

8. Soylent Green Social Media Is People
Pesky humans. They tend to recognize their own, have insanely honed BS detectors, can sense marketing at 100 paces and aren’t afraid to bitch and moan until someone pays attention to them.

Then again, the coolest stories inside a company, organization, table tennis team, etc. are from the people there. Not the spokesman. Not the media-trained, brightsmiled, finely manicured spokesman/pitchman/flimflam man. The 60-year old guy who has given up every weekend for the last 20 years to Habitat for Humanity AND is the number one engineer in the company is a heckuva lot more interesting than the Troy McClure (simpsons) wannabe who will be selling/telling us all the wonderful ideas behind the product. For the longest time, the only people inside a BIG company we could see where the C-Suite kids who made their quarterly appearance on CNBC. Users are getting a taste of the real people inside companies and they want more – not for inside secrets or war stories or gossip – but because they are giving a little bit of themselves (money, attention, fan-boy-hood) and want a little something human in return.

At our startup, the users are clamoring for the professionals within the company to engage them. They want to see and hear from the Pros and get sometimes a little unhappy when the guys can’t participate in the forums fast enough or often enough. Its a learning curve for the Digital team, and it means we are doing something right (and need to do it more and with more people to spread out the work).
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I will probably think up 100 more as I drive home

Looks like Brogan got me blogging again.

4 thoughts on “Social Media Best Practices

  1. Tracy Sheridan

    Sean,

    Beautifully written, right-on-the-money, fantastic post.

    More blogging, please. šŸ™‚

  2. J.D.

    Yeah, this is great — if there were ever a new edition of the Cluetrain Manifesto, I think it’d have to include exactly these points.

  3. Sean Post author

    Thanks Tracy & JD

    thing is – Cluetrain is the start of all this… its the book that got so many of us going. I would almost say that nothing in this post isn’t mentioned in or inspired by that book.

    The post maps a lot of my real world experience to the Cluetrain’s authors principles/ideas/themes

  4. Maceo

    Hmm If only we could find some way to fit all these on laminate cards and pass them out.

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