A teacher in the United States, Bill Ferriter, drew this graphic. It’s as applicable to your social media strategy as it is to teaching. To fully understand the value and impact of social media we must first recognize that the conversation and community — the communication that takes place — is more important than the technology or number of followers. Social media are tools, not outcomes. So let’s change the text a bit:
What do you want to do with social media?
- Raise awareness?
- Start conversations?
- Find answers or partners?
- Drive change?
The medium is not the message.
In the early 1960s media theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” It’s not. The message is the message. The media are tools we use to engage in communication with people. What conversations would you like to be part of? Do your metrics measure followers and “Likes” or the nature and impact of your communication?
In his March 3, 2015 Harvard Business Review article entitled “Is Social Media Actually Helping Your Company’s Bottom Line?” Frank Cespedes makes the same point: our most common metrics – likes, tweets, reviews, and click-through-rates – are superficial. Focusing on them unfortunately pulls our attention away from deeper, more lucrative and longer lasting impacts and onto spikes, traffic, and trivia. As Cespedes points out, now we see the results of years of this logic: media and marketing staff get busy arguing that it’s about awareness, not more tangible, relevant actions or metrics. We are not often measuring or discussing the right things when it comes to our social media content, tools, strategies and practices.
What to do instead?
In 2010 one of my tweets trended on Twitter for over a day. I had only a handful of followers and only knew it was happening because Esra’a Al Shafei told me. Even today I’ve only got just over 400 followers and use Twitter intermittently. How does that happen?
It happens when we tap into resonant themes and communicate with people who care deeply about the same things we do. It happens when we connect with communities of influencers who are already communicating with one another on topics about which they are passionate. It is powerful and fast. Anyone can do it. If you have thousands of followers and it’s not happening: why?
When I see companies wildly counting and soliciting followers, I shake my head. Too many organizations are using bots and automated follower finders to inflate their social media numbers. Our social media metrics need to go far deeper than that. Cespedes wrote, “It’s time to expect more from social media and prove it.” He’s right. It takes time and thought and commitment from leaders to identify and engage in thoughtful ways with important audiences through social media. What’s more: millennials outnumber Baby Boomers in the United States this year and so I’m thinking there is no time to waste to learn to use media better.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you have a robust listening board?
- Do you have people trained and available to evaluate the qualitative data you receive there?
- Do you have a clear idea the nature of conversations you want to engage in with audiences?
- Is your brand well reflected across its communication — is the brand identity consistent in every tweet & post?
- Who are the influencers already wildly successful with social media among your target audience?
- Are you engaging with them regularly via social media in the best ways?
- Are you building strong relationships with them beyond social media interactions?
If we rely on superficial metrics, we run the risk of missing social media’s remarkable potential. These are the same questions many media strategists have been at work on for a decade or more. They will not change, even as media do.