One of the beliefs at the core of what we do at freestak, is that social networking is the online version of a simple, human process that allows us to find people who share our beliefs and point of view, or who respect what we do and what to support us in it. In many ways, it is ‘play-ground’ behaviour where children go through the process of making friends. Success at social media for a business requires the same skills and processes as children employ in the play-ground – creating tribes, sharing experiences and – according to a recent study – being kind and generous.
Away from the play-ground, businesses and organisations have an extra challenge and that is reaching the people who are interested in the products or services offered and therefore will react to the social networking that a company is using. This is all about engaging with or creating tribes or groups around your specialism.
This is where failure comes in, because not everything you try to do will work.
Sometimes there is too much ‘push’ content – this is where companies or organisations use their social media outlets as corporate pin-boards, sending out messages that do not invite interaction. You are highly unlikely to create or engage with a tribe simply by telling them about your business and what you have been doing. The decline of the corporate annual report is a great example of this: people do not simply want to be force-fed messages, they want to converse.
Other times social media fails because the technology behind it fails. It is all well and good inviting interaction but if the process of interacting isn’t simple and intuitive, those who try to communicate with your business or organisation will become frustrated and be likely to give up. In those cases the effect can more negative feedback than had the business done nothing at all.
Another aspect of the failure of social media is failure of response. If a company invites a conversation with its customers, prospects or stakeholders (and, by the way if you have a Facebook page or a twitter account you are already doing that) but when the target audience does respond there is no one listening and responding to their points, at best the responses will dry up. At worse, the lack of response will illicit a back-lash: people do not like to feel that they are wasting their time.
The other main reason that social media appears to not work is that it is not loud enough or engaging enough. To go back to the play-ground analogy, it is not enough for a child to stand in the corner of a busy, noisy space and whisper about things that are not really interesting. They will be ignored. Unlike the old model of community life in a village, where the local butcher or baker had a virtual monopoly, in the world of social networks, you have to make sure that you are talking loudly and consistently enough to get some attention. There is a time for whispered secrets to a small group of close supporters or friends which we will talk about in another post, but for reaching out to customers and potential customers, you need to be heard. A tweet a week is not going to do it.
Finally, social media messages need to be visually engaging and easy to share. You are trying to get people’s attention and that is tough in our ever-busier world. And once you have their attention, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to tell their friends and peers about what they have found. Fail to do that and your reach will be limited to friends and family or those who are already fans of your business which is not great for growth.
So what has failure got to do with it?
The reason failure is so important, is that it teaches us how to get better next time: how to refine the message or the delivery. The trick is to fail enough to learn something, without the failure causing permanent harm.
Often we find that companies set up a social media outlet – a Facebook page or a twitter account – and after a couple of weeks or months, they don’t see the response that they were hoping for and give up. Generally though, there has not been much analysis of what went well and what could have been improved upon. As a result, there are no lessons learned and the whole enterprise disintegrates.
So have a think about your social networking:
- what are you doing on social media outlets? Is it push content or are you trying to engage with the world?
- if you are trying to engage, are you responding to people?
- are you talking to the right people? If there are already tribes that are interested in what you do, are you talking to them? If not, can you create a tribe to talk to?
- is what you are doing on social networks loud, consistent, regular and engaging enough to make sure that you are heard? And if you are hear, is it sharable so that people can tell their friends, family and contacts about it?
And don’t worry if you are not getting it all correct all the time. The trick here is to keep trying to engage with people. If you are genuine, interesting, kind, generous and honest, at the very least you will gain a reputation for being so with the people you do reach.