I like to approach social media the way I approach socializing. It probably helps that I am an extrovert. But I wasn’t born that way. I went through nerdy childhood and awkward adolescence, feeling left out of the popular cliques. Over time, I figured my way into where I wanted to be. That experience has been the most valuable one for me, when it comes to social media.
Social media is about people, about how we connect with each other, one on one and in groups. This is the essence of social skills. How to find that open spot, when to get in, what to say and what to be, how to deal with the ever-shifting vortex of other people’s perceptions. Isn’t this what a brand must deal with as well, when it comes to consumer mindspace?
What do you do when you go to a party? You prepare, by dressing up, by looking up the address and on occasion, thinking of things to say to the people you imagine will be there. For a brand, this translates to identifying the target audience, researching what interests them and where they hang out.
When you enter the party, what is your first action? Look around, take in the scene and reassure yourself that you’re dressed right, you’ve arrived at the right time, there are enough people who look like the picture in your head. And if one of these is off (as it is likely to be in a realistic scenario), you’ll take immediate corrective action. Hurry to the restroom (or back out, if you can) to get your attire in order. Formulate an apology or excuse for not being there at the right time. Reorient yourself to the people who are there, given they are a different crowd from what you expected.
I find this helps me stay more realistic about the flexibility that is required of a brand, when it first comes onto social media. Content strategy, social media plans – all of these are sweet dreams on paper and will look that way for about a week. After that, reality will require you to shape it differently or fall by the wayside.
Given that brands are business properties, backed by the money, effort and time of several people, there is that additional pressure to perform. Who would a ‘top performer’ be in my party metaphor? Why, the toast of the party, of course. As a brand custodian, you aim to be that. You might end up being one of the ‘interesting people I met today’ for most of the audience. But it sure beats being that wallflower that nobody remembers. Or worse still, that utterly gauche person who made a laughingstock of himself by throwing up (social faux pas). Being popular is an art but also an acquired skill. Boiling it down to a formula-based science won’t get you very far.
Brands need to approach social media the same way people approach a party. Social skills make the whole difference between this being a nightmare or a fun activity.