Don’t Leave the “Social” Out of Social Media

This is a guest post by Peter Pollock. He is originally from England but now resides in California. He owns his own web-hosting business (Heavenly Hosts), is a stay-at-home dad, a missionary, and a pastor in Hands and Feet. He is an avid blogger and is active on Twitter and Facebook. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

I am constantly shocked and amazed at how badly some people and organizations understand and use Social Media. Some, it seems, believe that Social Media sites are places to advertise and nothing else, but surely that defeats the purpose of these sites being “social.”

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/kemie, Image #189738

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/kemie

One dictionary defines the word social as:

1. pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations: a social club. 2. seeking or enjoying the companionship of others; friendly; sociable; gregarious.”

If “social” refers to enjoying companionship then there has to be some form of shared experience, of openness and two-way communication.

People or organizations who use social media for nothing more than advertising their latest product or promoting their latest post or article are missing the point of these new social networks. Subsequently they are likely to fail to increase their followers and may even find that their approach is detrimental to their “brand image.”

I see three different strategies for using social media sites such as Twitter which seem to be effective, productive and accepted by the social media community:

  1. Engagement. This, my personally preferred strategy, is defined not only by an openness in sharing personal experiences but also by a willingness to respond to friends and followers. Great examples of this strategy are Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) and Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano). Both are busy, fairly high-profile individuals yet both take the time to respond to questions and share links to articles and sites they find interesting. They have both mastered the art of creating ‘companionship’ with a group of tens or even hundreds of thousands of people.
  2. Openness. If you don’t have the time to engage with your customers on a personal level, sharing what’s happening in your life on a quite personal level is an effective way to help people connect with you. Dan Cathy (@DanCathy), President and COO of Chick-Fil-A uses this strategy to good effect. As far as I am aware, Mr. Cathy doesn’t often respond directly to people on social media sites but he does show his human side through his updates. I was quite amused when the man whose company has the advertising slogan “Eat Mor Chikin” tweeted about buying a Big Mac at McDonalds!
  3. Flattery. Everyone wants their five minutes of fame and companies who retweet messages from their customers give them just that. Air New Zealand (@FlyAirNZ) use twitter to offer some customer support, advertise their latest deals and give their customers an ego boost when they tweet something positive about the airline. It’s not the best strategy but somehow it makes you feel part of a community who have shared experiences.

Optimally though, Engagement is always the best strategy. There is no better method to truly connect with your customers or audience than to respond to them personally, at least occasionally. You can do this by:

  • Regularly responding to tweets, especially Direct Messages.
  • Making your email address freely available and responding to emails.
  • Responding to some or all comments on your blog posts.
  • Checking the comments on your Facebook status updates and responding occasionally.
  • Re-tweeting links to great content you have read. A re-tweet (RT) says as much, if not more than a comment praising the article.

It doesn’t take much time to engage with your followers, but the benefits both to your brand image and the success of your social media strategy are huge.

Social Media is a new way of connecting with and growing your customer base and so there are new rules about how to manage those relationships. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can bring old strategies into these new opportunities, it’s time for personal connection and engagement—or your strategy will ultimately fail.

Question: How are you personally making social media “social”? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    I echo this great post! Wonderful reminder that it's all about relationships. It's been heartening for me to cyber meet Twitter and Facebook friends, only to run into them later and re-meet them in person. There's an instant connection.

    And I've found that social media, when used in the way Peter describes, truly helps build a tribe (a la Seth Godin). And tribes become connectors and mavens, wonderful cheerleaders for you and your message.

    Great post!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      You have done a great job of building your own tribe, Mary. I certainly saw that when I posted your guest blog. They swarmed in from everywhere!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      Thanks, Mary.

      You do a great job of being social via twitter and your blog.

      You're an excellent example of how to use social media well!

  • Colleen Coble

    Great post, Peter! The social part is the best thing about social media, especially for authors. We get stuck sitting in our chairs for hours a day. Twitter and Facebook let me develop friendships with my readers and not feel so alone. Here. Where I'm alone. Alone. :-) Then I get a tweet or an email and it recharges me!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I love the instant feedback. It keeps me going, too!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      That's a good point, Colleen.

      Social media has so many benefits not least of which, as you so rightly point out, is that it keeps us connected with other people even when we're 'alone'.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SynapticLight Phillip Gibb

    I could not agree with you more, but just as there are difficulties in finding your place in a conversation in real life; there are difficulties online. Sometimes personality based and sometimes just a lack of knowledge.
    Chris Brogan and Julian Smith also have some great pointers in their book Trust Agents – Listening before Engaging being a kind of summary.
    Personally I find it difficult to find my social place in channels like twitter – sure I can do what Michael Hyatt and Alyssa Milano are doing but in many ways it is their reputation that facilitates the success of the engagement – most of the time.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      I'm with you there, Phillip. In some ways it's a chicken and egg situation. Some people engage successfully because they are already well known and have a good reputation. Others become well known through their engagement in social media.

      I am a fairly introverted and shy person in the real world but find it much easier to connect and engage online. I'm slowly building a wider and wider circle of friends online (450 twitter followers and counting) but I'm not sure I really know my 'social place' as you put it either.

      What I've found is that nothing beats just getting involved and being yourself. Your 'place' will work itself out. It can seem like a long, slow crawl at times but I find it very rewarding and have made some wonderful friends!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I agree with Peter. I think if you are authentic and generous, the numbers will take care of themselves. More and more I see that influencing a few people well is more important that communicating to the masses. This was Jesus core strategy.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

        Oh, now you're talking MY language, Michael! :-)

  • http://katdish.blogspot.com katdish

    Hey Peter!

    Wonderful article. I often get follows from folks with 1000's of followers, then I read their tweets and think to myself, "How can they possibly have so many followers? All they tweet is links and tired old quotes." They've obviously found a loophole.

    Reminds me of a line from one of my favorite movies, "The Breakfast Club": "Oh, it's social…Pathetic and sad. But social."

    Mike (can I call you Mike?) – you were the first "high profile" person I followed to follow me back and actually engage with your followers. That's very cool.

    Yay, Peter!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      Was I the second? Oh.. no… I'm not high profile… yet :-)

      One thing I've found is that the world is very fragmented and there can be a whole niche of people who believe that a particular person is the most famous person in the world and then, when you step out of their little niche, no-one has heard of him/her.

      I see this online regularly. People will be talking about and following someone like he's the pope and he'll have thousands of followers and I'll have never heard of him before in my life!

      At lest you know that no-one is ever going to say of you "All she tweets is links and tired old quotes" :-)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      There's definitely a lot of mystery in this. I don't know why some people have so many followers and others don't. I have noted some trends, but I am no expert.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chrishuff chrishuff

    A trend I have seen among fellow twitters is the tweet that reads: "if you tweet but never reply to anyone's questions [tweets] then I'm unfollowing you."

    It's great when a leader tweets information for sharing with their followers but I think they are also opening up the possibility for dialogue. When they refuse to dialogue with anyone, they could very well have been posting something on a comments-turned-off blog.

    I'm not saying that if you tweet, you must respond anything I direct to you. I know that a person with 10,000 followers probably can't afford the time to reply to everyone but if they reply to a few at least that's…well…that's the social part.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      Absolutely, Chris.

      It really frustrates me when people don't engage. In a way I feel used. It's like I gave them a billboard inside my home to pin their ads on.

      Michael Hyatt definitely shows that it is possible, even with tens of thousands of followers to be engaged and be social!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      That frustrates me, too. Some people only see Twitter or their blog as a monologue, or a broadcast mechanism. While it can certainly work like that at one level, I find that people want genuine dialog. As leaders, we have to be willing to engage if we are going to have influence.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/srivera srivera

    Thanks for a great post! And the winner is Engagement!

    For an introvert like me social media is been a great opportunity to open myself before actually meeting the person…it makes it easier. ;)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      Thank you.

      I'm glad social media has been useful to you. Long may it continue!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I'm an introvert, too!

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

        So is Richard Branson (Owner of the Virgin group of companies)… and so am I.

        Maybe there is hope for me yet!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lindsey_Nobles Lindsey_Nobles

    I have ranted on this before but I HATE auto-direct messages. I HATE them because I don't know which ones I really need to respond to. With recent spam schemes, my DM-box is so full, that I am more apt to respond to an @reply than a DM.

    I think engagement is key. Plus, it makes it more fun. Also, I try to look beyond the 140 characters twitter allows us. I check out and comment on folks blogs, etc.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/chrishuff chrishuff

      Here is how engagement wins…

      A worship leader or tech director (can't remember which) tweeted a link to michael's blog article on "Five Characteristics of Weak Leaders." I had been blogging on leadership and the timing was perfect for me to visit the link. I checked out the article and then a few others on leadership.

      Reading comments, I noticed that Micheal was replying to people. I thought "wow, it's not often I see this high of a quality of a web site with a person who is then willing to spend the time with follow-up comments."

      At this point, I didn't know anything about michael other than his great blogs on leadership. I clicked on the "about" link on his site and read his bio. I couldn't believe it! A CEO was spending the time interacting with site visitors. This is more un-common than not from what I've experienced.

      Then I looked around his site and saw his honest personal posts on 90-day goals, a life plan, and slay your dragons before breakfast. In my view, at this point, he's open, honest, and willing to communicate. From that, I started my own 90-day goals, and am carving out a life plan. My day planner has a new "Morning Routine" based on one of his posts.

      All that to say this…if Michael wasn't engaging, I wouldn't have started a life plan, I wouldn't have stuck around to read the De-railed book post, and I wouldn't be contributing to his site with this post.

      Engaging is sharing with each other. Sharing is teaching and learning at the same time. That's how we grow.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

        Wow. I am humbled by your comment. And, I'm not gonna lie, it's also a little scary. This is why I am trying to be more and more transparent, so people can see that I make my share of mistakes. We're all in this together!

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

        Great comment, Chris.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      Great point, Lindsey.

      It's so easy to become 'twitter-centric' and forget that blog posts and comments are great ways to engage and be social too.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      As you know, Lindsey (because we work together). I used to have an auto-DM that went to new followers, referring them to my Beginner’s Guide to Twitter. I thought I was being helpful, but many people just thought it was spam. I quit several months ago, and I am glad I did. We gotta keep it real.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/JeffHolton Jeffrey Holton

        At the time you were doing that, I needed that Beginner's Guide.

        But it's still in your Most Popular Posts list there on the left. I think anyone who finds you on Twitter will quickly pop over here, and vice versa.

        I'm glad it's still available, one way or the other.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chrishuff chrishuff

    Here is how engagement wins…

    A worship leader or tech director (can't remember which) tweeted a link to michael's blog article on "Five Characteristics of Weak Leaders." I had been blogging on leadership and the timing was perfect for me to visit the link. I checked out the article and then a few others on leadership.

    Reading comments, I noticed that Micheal was replying to people. I thought "wow, it's not often I see this high of a quality of a web site with a person who is then willing to spend the time with follow-up comments."

    At this point, I didn't know anything about michael other than his great blogs on leadership. I clicked on the "about" link on his site and read his bio. I couldn't believe it! A CEO was spending the time interacting with site visitors. This is more un-common than not from what I've experienced.

    Then I looked around his site and saw his honest personal posts on 90-day goals, a life plan, and slay your dragons before breakfast. In my view, at this point, he's open, honest, and willing to communicate. From that, I started my own 90-day goals, and am carving out a life plan. My day planner has a new "Morning Routine" based on one of his posts.

    All that to say this…if Michael wasn't engaging, I wouldn't have started a life plan, I wouldn't have stuck around to read the De-railed book post, and I wouldn't be contributing to his site with this post.

    Engaging is sharing with each other. Sharing is teaching and learning at the same time. That's how we grow.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/klreed189 Kyle Reed

    I think engaging with your followers is the biggest thing. I know for myself I want to engage with who I am following. And so when they respond to me it makes it more personal. I try and read everyones tweets that I follow. It is starting to get a little bit to much and am now faced with the decision of follow more or just sit back and enjoy the 250 that I follow now.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      I'm struggling to keep up with all of the people I follow. I'm trying to work out a way to make columns in tweetdeck that actually help me manage them better but my favorite tweeps are just such prolific tweeters that stuff gets lost very quickly in the scrum of messages.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/klreed189 Kyle Reed

        Ya, I use seesmic and organize it into 3 columns but am still trying to connect with each and every column. It is difficult and I want to figure out a better way to do it. Who knows if it is possible, but I am going to try.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

          Mike has some good advice here on his blog that I just found (with his help): http://michaelhyatt.com/2009/05/how-to-better-man

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/klreed189 Kyle Reed

            thanks for the link.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I struggle with this, too. I follow everyone who follows me, so we can DM one another. There are some I can only "broadcast" to. I can't possibly read all their tweets. But I always read all my DMs, mentions, and then a handful of family a true friends.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/klreed189 Kyle Reed

        I am glad that you do this. I get very frustrated when I start to follow someone and they do not follow me back. Especially when you want to ask them something or correspond but you cannot because they do not follow you. For me I know what is appropriate and what is not and I do my best to not be that annoying guy that sends them DMs or @ replies everday, but there are somethings that I want to discuss and see what they think.

        Thanks for weighing in.

  • http://www.BridgetChumbley.com Bridget

    Great article, Peter. Those are great points to keep in mind. I agree with katdish, some of the tweeps with a really high number of followers don't engage at all… I think they're really missing the whole point of 'Social' media.

    Thanks!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      Thanks, Bridget.

      The people who aren't very social are probably the ones who won't read posts like this though :-)

  • http://blog.breakthroughalaska.com jasonS

    Hey Peter! This is wonderful and excellent advice. Keep up the great work.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      Thanks, Jason. I appreciate the kind words.

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  • http://true-small-caps.blogspot.com Derek

    I once saw a publisher's Twitter feed that consisted solely of announcing their new titles … one tweet at a time. Funny but sad.

    What am I doing to engage? I'm commenting on your blog!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      Engagement is really that simple!

      Thank you for being sociable :-)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/mjpeterson37 mjpeterson37

    Mike and Peter,

    I read a blog the other day about not confusing your followers about your reason for being there by moving from sharing light personal information about yourself to sharing deep or intriguing thoughts with people about a topic.

    If my followers know me for sharing thoughts on Scripture do you think I risk loosing followers by peppering my post with more personal things. If my followers know me for sharing mundane details about my day that will help them better understand me, will they go away if I drop a notes about philosophy or politics every now and then?

    The premise of the article I read seems to contradict the premise of this article and I am just trying to understand.

    Thanks, Mark

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Mark, I am not sure what Peter will say, but I disagree with the post you read—at least as you described it. I think the more personal stuff humanizes you and therefore bonds people to you. At least, that has been my experience. Thanks!

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/mjpeterson37 mjpeterson37

        Thanks. Reading the comments from Colleen and Mary help too. I will take it as an action to try to be more personal. I sometimes think, who will care about my personal thoughts, but I get the point and it makes sense. Thanks again.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      Mark, many people purport to be social media 'experts' and most are not.
      I'm definitely not. I just write about both what I see that works and what doesn't work.

      Human beings are not one dimensional so I don't believe that projecting a one-dimensional image of ourselves be it through a blog, twitter, writing books, public speaking or any such outlet can really work in the long term.

      Having a central theme to your blogging etc is fine but, as Michael says, the more personal stuff humanizes you. My experience is that people are looking not just for information and 'deep' thoughts but for real people with whom they can connect.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/mjpeterson37 mjpeterson37

        Peter, thanks – two great thoughts – People are not one dimensional and people are looking for people with whom they can connect.

        It makes sense that more people will listen to your thoughts if they can connect with you relationally. Why do we miss that? Thanks.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/cjsteele Candy

    Peter, your authentic engagement is so appreciated! Michael was also the first "big gun" to follow me, and I was young enough in Twitter to think that he actually sent me a DM with the Beginner's Guide! It was an auto-DM? My parade has been rained on. Like Jeffrey, I needed the guide, however (obviously). Great post!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      I don't remember if I got the auto DM from Mike, but I remember getting one from @gabetaviano. I could tell it was an auto but it was still awesome and I auto-DM'd for a while but then people started saying they don't like it so I stopped. I think. Maybe I should check that!

      Thanks for your kind words, Candy.

  • http://heathersunseri.blogspot.com Heather Sunseri

    Excellent post, Peter. I always think of social media as simply having a constant conversation with others. Twitter, blogging, Facebook – they're all great big conversations. That's why we call them "social," right? If we're not responding to tweets, comments, etc, then what are we doing? Great points.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      EXACTLY! :-)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Really, when you think about it, if they are not social, then they are no different than traditional media—a broadcast medium.

  • http://www.cherylblemine.wordpress.com Cheryl B Lemine

    Within the last month I had launched a blog to highlight my professional writing. It has three "channels" – or topics – family, faith and fun. I rotate between those topics and post twice a week on Wednesday and Sunday. I'm grateful when people who read it take time to post and I find that when my stories or posts are more personal, they respond in kind.

    it is my policy to respond to posts by at least thanking each person who takes the time to comment.

    Michael and Peter, thanks for helping me realize that it's OK to be personable online…

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      You're welcome – and thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I used to try to respond to every comment but I don't always get the time especially as I try to post every day. However, I do try to engage regularly with everyone and always respond to 'first timers'.

      As with all things, it's all about balance – and just being yourself!

  • http://blog.simpletruths.com Matt

    Thanks for all of the examples! I try so hard to stay in touch with everyone, but it's easy to get overwhelmed. Honestly, though, one way that I've made myself social is by applying the 80/20 rule, and trying to keep up with the people that matter the most to me. I feel a little bad when I have to ignore others who are not in the "top 20%", but I am comforted by the fact that when I do try to stay connected, the relationship is not too fulfilling for either of us.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      Hi Matt,

      That is one of the great difficulties with social media, as your circle expands it becomes more and more difficult to stay in touch with people.

      Personally, I find that very occasional contact from someone I know is very busy and very 'popular' even just if it's a one-off tweet every few months makes me feel connected and important to them even if I know it doesn't mean we have a real relationship.

      • http://blog.simpletruths.com Matt

        That's a really good point, the @replies really do show that the tweet don't fall on deaf ears.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patalexander patalexander

    Peter, this is an awesome post. I follow a lot of insurance agencies on twitter and FB. It is obvious that many of them need to read this post. When I talk to them about this they say it is important to their image and brand to be as professional as possible. I know that many of these people are actually very social with their clients in person or on the phone. So why can't they be social in social media? Thanks for sharing this information with us.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      "Professional" is such a weird word. People use it to mean 'stand-offish' or 'aloof'. They would say that they "need to be as professional as possible" but they would never say that they "need to be as aloof as possible", which in reality is what they mean.

      'Professional' organizations need to learn that this is a new world and the old ways of operating just don't work any more. These days we need to be more relational… or someone else will!

      Thanks for the great comment!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/digitalchiro Patrick MacNamara

    Great post, Peter!

    I'm amazed at how marketers have simply moved their outbound strategies and tactics from traditional to online vehicles.

    For example, just take a look at Twitter. Instead of including "social" within marketers' tweets, we get inundated with auto and SPAM bots that just regurgitate meaningless tweets pitching some product or "get rich quick" scheme. This is a guaranteed unfollow and block! :-D

    If people want to get the most out of social media, they must remember to join in on the conversation. That is one of the reasons why I follow and read Michael Hyatt's tweets and posts. He's interesting, personal and actually participates in the conversation.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Peter. Keep up the great writing!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      Thank you, Patrick. I really appreciate your comments and encouragement!

  • http://www.customersarecool.com Erik van Geest

    Hi Peter, i am a first time reader on your site. Great content. Thanks for this post, keep up the great writing. You are an inspiration to me, I have just set up my own blogging site about CRM: http://www.customersarecool.com Thanks

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  • http://www.strategicincubator.com Matthew Ray Scott

    Peter, really great post. I posed the question on my blog recently, Are We Advocating Unsocial Social Media Behaviors? I even pointed out some Christian social media favorites and asked people to weigh-in. You can read it here if you'd like.

    http://strategicincubator.com/businessdevelopment

    What I'm learning is there is a difference between anti-social and unsocial social media behavior. I will say that many commented that one-sided conversation is a big frustration.
    My recent post Flip Video Glimpse Into Our Family Christmas Winter Fun

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  • http://peterpollock.com Peter P

    Why are there no comments showing?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That’s a good question. It must be a glitch in the database synchronization between WordPress and Discus. I’ll file a support ticket with Disqus. Thanks for pointing this out. Thanks,

      • http://peterpollock.com Peter P

        Thanks, Michael.

        I noticed it a couple of weeks ago but kind of forgot until I linked to this post today.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I am not sure Peter. However, I have filed a support ticket with Disqus. Thanks for reporting this.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks to the excellent support from Disqus, they have fixed it. Evidently, I had two different URLs for this same post. Disqus got confused!

      • http://peterpollock.com Peter P

        Wow. That was fast!