Wednesday, May 29

Put People Ahead Of Platforms If You Want To Succeed

Modern online marketers fascinate me. They always say they want to connect with people online, but most of them are ultimately obsessed with platforms. They want to know which social network is popular, which platform is the most active, which network will deliver more referral traffic, how to make headlines buzz, and when to post content so the most eyeballs see it. So on and so forth.

I think you get the idea. They talk a good game about relationships, but funnel most of their energy into gaming the relationship, everything from search engine optimization (including competitor names and misspellings) to misleading headlines that don't deliver on the content they promise. It's all silly stuff.

There are no silver bullets. People are social nomads. 

It really is silly stuff, but don't dismiss it all outright. Those tips and tactics can be useful, provided you don't become too comfortable with last year's data or this year's predictions. Social media is the never ending story taking place in an always changing environment. The only certainty so far is nothing.

Examples abound. If you believe Facebook will always be the most popular place to connect, that Google+ is where tech savvy guys hang out, or that sales only happen after site visits, then you might be making the same mistake that people made when they thought Tumblr was a waste of time, Quora would be the next big social network (or down for the count), or that any service is too big or popular to shutter. Betting the farm on any one of those statements is akin to picking a single series for a media buy and assuming that it will never be shuttered.

Just as every television series on the planet will eventually vanish, networks will eventually vanish too. One of my favorite examples is par for the course as the case was made: Bumpzee will be the next Digg. The prediction was almost right, but in the opposite direction. Neither really exist (and many new social media experts haven't even heard of them). Nobody wants to save Delicious anymore either.

In fact, all this is why I've always found the tribes concept misleading. It wasn't because Seth Godin was wrong. He was mostly right, but without an emphasis on the idea that tribes are as temporal as communication. Modern humans do fall into them. But they fall out of them just as fast.

The ones you belonged to in high school aren't the the ones you belong to today. The ones you belong to today aren't the ones that you'll belong to in the future. They are tied to platforms, technologies, jobs, and marriages, and all sorts of other things that feel permanent in our lives but are not nearly so permanent.

Five areas of focus that will make you more people centric instead of platform reliant over the long term. 

Sure, people make up social networks and social networks can help you reach those people who have already pitched a tent. But that doesn't make the platforms more important than the people. Even inside most networks, any given community, page, or group can be completely different from another. The company needs to create it.

• Know what you are talking about. It doesn't matter what industry you work in or for. You need to know as much about it as you do marketing, advertising or social media. Even if you will never know more about it than the industry leaders (a few analysts come close), you need to know enough to have an intelligent conversation with anyone who asks.

Most people writing content don't know nearly as much as they need to, which is probably why only 37 percent of marketers would call their Facebook efforts successful when surveyed (they all say they're successful in person). You see, anyone can drop a discount, network quip or announce an event. But it takes someone who knows something to engage and keep them interested.

• Know the people you want to reach. If you have never spent time with customers and prospects (and make note of any differences between them), then you might not reach them anyway. Industry leaders and executives struggle with this as much as social media and marketing managers. They can tell you the demographics of their target audience, but few take the time to really get to know them.

Big data is great, but old school copywriters know that the secret ingredient inside all content has to do with understanding the customers as people and often visualizing a real person when they write to them. You have to get to know them. Shake their hands. Put yourself in their shoes. And then ask yourself how your social network messages look from their perspective.

• Make adjustments for platform constraints. With the exception of understanding the constraints that come with every platform, there isn't much more you need to know about them. It's more important to tie messages to the mission, vision and values more than the best practices of a social network. After all, best practices are almost never invented by anyone who follows them.

The better way to think about it is to craft a message and then see how it fits within a platform, much in the same way campaigns were made across radio, print and television. As long as it is strong and doesn't break any constraints, customers and prospects will not only find it but give it resonance. One step better than someone liking or sharing, resonance means they will remember it a week from now.

• Be interesting and enthusiastic about the topic. When I speak to students, I can never stress it enough. If you think the topic is boring, it will show up in the writing. There is nothing you can do about it. All the superlatives and exclamation points in the world won't save you. Those make it worse.

The most common excuse they offer up is that their clients, employers or bosses dictate the content thread. But I don't completely buy it. Putting in a little extra effort to show someone why something else might be superior can make all the difference.

• Know how much to say and when to shut up. I said something similar for marketers two weeks ago, but this advice is specific to social networks. The difference between a consumer seeing content value or spam is only one post, share or email too many.

Remind yourself and your employers that no one needs to be the center of attention all the time, unless the public wants to make something the center of attention. Give your messages, ideas and concepts some room to live before blasting away with the next. Instead of making conversations read like a group of people taking turns at a single microphone, nurture something that looks like community conversations.

While those five tips aren't even close to everything you need to know about social networks, they do represent a different direction than what has become the standard fare. Stop worrying about which social networks and start thinking about what will make people seek you out no matter the network.
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