People intuitively understand the elements of what works in social media.
The problem is not that we see Facebook, for example, as an impossible-to-navigate vortex of confusion similar to a spaceship cockpit where we don’t know what any of the buttons do.
No, we know what the buttons do. And we press them a lot.
Our problem, when it comes to scaling social media and truly operationalizing it (aka using it for business purposes in a structured way to achieve goals), is that we don’t have time to do it. We don’t have the resources. We don’t have a formula.
In some ways, that’s good. Social is spontaneous. Social is about being human. There is no formula to earning influence (despite the title of the best-selling How to Win Friends and Influence People). It’s an art, not a science, right? Well, sort of.
The nuance and touch of social media certainly is an art. You’ve got to be a valued community member, you’ve got to act like a human, you’ve got to be transparent and have the right tone and all that jazz.
But once you’ve mastered that, there’s a tendency to act like an octopus and sort of have tentacles in many things as we float around the ocean but never truly have our grip on the things that move the business. And that just ain’t a good story to share in the board room.
So what do we do? I’m glad you asked. The key in morphing social media from a hobby into an operational discipline is applying the intangibles (the voice, the tone, the transparency, the social-ness) to a formula (the daily series of operations that will – over time – help you achieve real results).
What does that social media engagement formula look like? Well, results may vary, but here’s the one I follow every (business) day:
1. Visit my listening station.
Chris Brogan coined this term in his must-read book Trust Agents (haven’t read it? Go read it now).
“Listening station” may sound fancy, but all we’re talking about here is a place where you’ve plugged in to the internet in a meaningful way. I use Google Reader as a listening station and it works just fine. (Some people will tell you you need Radian 6 or something fancier, and that may be the case, but Google Reader is one hell of a product). What do I do in my listening station?
2. Check for brand mentions.
I don’t just want to know that people have mentioned me or a brand I’m working with, I want to know why they mentioned us and I want to respond in some capacity.
Someone has mentioned our brand in a positive way in a blog post? I may comment on the post or Tweet the link.
Someone has mentioned our brand in a negative way? I will email the link to other members of the team who handle customer service in a more formal way.
Either way, we don’t want to let a shout-out go unnoticed and we don’t want to let a complaint fester. Using a listening station on a daily basis is essential to being on top of what people are saying about your brand, your people, or your product for better or worse.
3. Curate content.
Curation has arrived in a major way on the web. It’s been around for quite some time (read this article about how curation is deeply rooted in journalism’s DNA) but it’s truly at a fever pitch right now. People think it’s the beginning of a new world or the end of an old world and there are many pieces written about what people think of curation. Read them if you want. I, however, mostly ignore them. Curation has been around for a while and will continue to be around for a while.
Curation, whether you love it or hate it is simply this: sifting through all the stuff to find the stuff that your readers will find useful. (Sounds like journalism, no?) It’s the science of understanding the ecosystem and the art of explaining what matters. In my listening station, that’s where the rubber hits the road.
Every morning (after I’ve checked for brand mentions) I go through the hundred-some sources I subscribe to and read (actually read) the content that appeals to me. Once I’ve read it, tire-kicked it for value and thought about it, I do one or all of the following:
- Leave a thoughtful comment on the post itself
- Share it on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, email, Reddit, Delicious, StumbleUpon or print it out (truly). (And I’m sure to give a h/t to the original source and add my own thought and context to the post – just like a museum curator would).
- Tag it or star it as something I may want to circle back on (as a reference, to use in a blog post, to send to a colleague or client or boss)
- Blog about it (more on that below)
- Mark it as read.
By going through these prescribed motions, I’m on top of my industry in a deliberate – and yes, formulaic – way that makes me smarter, makes me know what’s going on, and gives me fodder for social media conversations (so I’m not just shilling my own stuff all the time). Plus, it makes me a better web citizen (because I’m participating and I’m trying to become more informed).
4. Create content.
Now, I’ll admit, I don’t get to this one every single day, but I’m working on it (this stuff is like exercise, you get faster, more committed and better as you go, but we’re all a few workouts (at least) away from our perfect body). But, because I’m on top of what’s been said in my industry, I now have a more informed perspective as context for my own point of view.
The art of creating content is more complicated than the length of this blog post will allow me to explain, but suffice it to say that reading lots of content makes you better at creating content.
5. See what works.
I’m impatient and I want instant gratification. Sure, people tell you to check analytics just once a month (trends are developed over months, not minutes) but I’m too impatient for that.
Each day I check what got clicked on the most among my social media postings (I do this at the end of the day – or I check yesterday’s performance the next morning after I’m through with my listening station) and I check Google Analytics to see what performed best on a website (as measured by pageviews, visits, social media activity, and inbound links).
This ain’t perfect, but it’s the foundation of an ever-evolving formula that I work with, stick to and continue to improve. It organizes my time in a more efficient manner, and forces me to hit the gym – err, the interwebs – in a meaningful way every, single, day.
What is your formula for social media engagement?