Interaction on social media is often compared to being at a party, and I hope you’ll forgive me for shamelessly going down the same route, because it’s just that accurate.

So when I’m at a party, there’s usually loads of people that I don’t know. I’m actually not as much of a networker as you might expect of someone with a strong enough interest in social media to get up extra early in the morning to catch the train to Birmingham from Sheffield for my internship at a social media company (no, I am definitely NOT a morning person).

Of course, if I wasn’t a mere undergraduate fresh out of first year but, say, a famous author, it wouldn’t matter so much who I know at the party. People would come and want to talk to me of their own volition and I could answer all their burning questions as to whether or not their favourite characters are going to survive the next volume of my ongoing fantasy novels.

Active vs passive social media

But since I’m not George R.R. Martin (I don’t even have a single middle name, those all got taken by my older brother), I have to be a bit more proactive about things. Now I could just hope and pray for people to come and talk to me, but I learned during middle school that this usually doesn’t work out so well. Instead, I mingle, I keep my ears open, trying to find a group of people who are talking about something that interests me, then casually join in.

The connection to social media is obvious enough and relates to the idea of active and passive social media behaviour. The latter would be publishing content that in turn (hopefully) prompts people to interact with you. As I hinted at earlier, this will very much depend on the quality of your content and your overall renown. If I was a leading member of the student’s union or singer in a band people might recognise me and I could indeed just stand around and wait for people to approach me.

The former social media behaviour is when you actively seek out people or conversations and start interacting. The neat thing about this approach is that there’s really nothing stopping you from doing it, besides perhaps your own reservations and awkwardness (again, like me in middle school).

In my little example, both result in conversations, but chances are the information gained out of each one would be very different.

In the case of me as an author, I wouldn’t really be able to get to know any of the people I speak with very well. The conversation would always be centred around a particular work of mine and I would likely end up regurgitating a lot of responses that might as well have been found out by consulting an FAQ.

By joining in on a conversation, I would both have the chance to tell people what I think about the topic as well as listen to what their views are. We would likely get to know each other a lot better, since this an actual dynamic conversation instead on a series of responses.

There are a lot of benefits to an active social media approach over a passive one. You don’t have to be an award-winning author, for starters. You get to show your interests and do some important customer validation at the same time. You’re not reliant on the people who happen to notice you, but instead you get to choose who you want to interact with. Exchanging the party analogy for an only slightly less cliché one, would you rather go after your dream partner or just end up with whoever happened to take an interest in you? Granted, you might just get very lucky, but especially as a business you don’t really want to rely on chance all that much. Even if you’re approached by someone who you’re genuinely interested in, you can only find out if they’re right for you if you start talking to them at some point, shifting your passive stance to an active one.

As with most things in life, there are some things to keep in mind about the active approach as well. You don’t want to be the person who crashes a conversion uninvited and then proceeds to make it revolve all around themselves. Keeping with the theme of telling you things you’ve heard somewhere else before, try and be yourself. It’s no less true just you’ve heard it thousand times before and I want to make clear what that means for you as a business in the context of social media:

– Be pleasant by listening to what people have to say.

– Be focused by getting your message across without being obnoxious.

– Let people know what you’re about, but for goodness sake don’t go up to them and pitch out of nowhere. That’s just awkward for everyone.

– Make the contain about them, not yourself.

If you want to sell something, don’t make it sound like you would just sell to anybody, but stress that you’re making the offer because, based on the conversation you just had, you genuinely believe your product or service would be a good fit for the other person. Person is a good word to end this on, because that’s what you should make other people feel like: that you’ve engaged with them as a person instead of a business that’s found a new (replaceable) customer.

Summing things up, your passive social media presence is great to keep those already interested in you interested, but by going out and finding new people you get to expand your horizon in a more directed way and perhaps even find true love. Or not. You know what I mean.