Want to get better at social media? Ask “Why?”

Social media practitioners: want to get better at your job? Learn one word:

Why?

Used well, asking “why?” can help you get to the bottom of almost any problem, push your colleagues to explore new options, and force a new level of honesty in decision making.

I’ve just started reading Christopher Barger‘s book The Social Media Strategist (side note: only a few pages in and I already like it), and one particular section stood out to me:

“The individual connections and relationships made within social networks on behalf of organizations and brands don’t happen because the brands want to appear more approachable or more human. Those are nice side effects. But make no mistake, as unromantic as it sounds, businesses and organizations get into social media because they want customers (or potential customers) to eventually buy their products, feel better about having purchased their products, and have problems with their products resolved more efficiently, and they want to get insight on what might make a customer more likely to buy those products in the future. “The conversation” and “engagement” are just means to that end.”

We’re operating in a field which is still full of kumbaya and hugging. Social media is still a shiny object to many people – companies still come at it with a focus on the shiny object rather than on what they really need. In that context, asking “why” is critical to improving your odds of success.

Let’s take an all-too-frequent conversation that agencies have with clients: the “we should be ‘in’ social media” conversation. At face value, a statement from a client like “we should be in social media” has no meaning, direction or any sort of objectives whatsoever. However, by asking “why?” a few times, you can dig to the core of it. The conversation could go something like this:

A: We need to be in social media.

B: Ok, why do you want to be in social media?

A: Because we’re a customer-focused company and we want to get closer to our customers.

B: Fair enough. Tell me, what do you hope to achieve by getting closer in this case – why do you want to be closer to them?

A: Because we want to build a relationship with the people who use our products.

B: Great. So why do you want to build those relationships?

A: To help us hit our sales targets.

That’s by no means the end of that conversation – it’s just the beginning – but in just three questions you’ve dug down from “get me one of those” to a more focused objective of increasing sales volume. Other times that might be increasing loyalty; other times it might be gaining product insights. Once you’re at that point, you can help to re-focus objectives, and can work to build strategies and tactics that drive at the true business need rather than the one originally stated. You can apply the same things to strategic or tactical conversations too, with the end goal of driving better thinking, better communication and better business decisions.

What’s more, you can do the same thing internally. Instead of challenging or editing, ask:

  • Why did you use that particular phrase?
  • Why do you think that’s the right platform for this contest?
  • Why do you think a contest is the right tactic for this objective?
  • Why do you think we should be on Pinterest?

Build a team culture where asking “why” is the norm, and you’re well on your way to building a high-performance organization.

(Image credit: a_ninjamonkey)

11 comments
Communic8nHowe
Communic8nHowe like.author.displayName 1 Like

Great post Dave! "Why?" is an equally important question for the charities, nonprofits and small businesses that I assist. Unfortunately, there are still social media holdouts who haven't realized that social media must be a part of their communications mix. Maybe looking at how using it to realize their organization's current objectives can help convince them that it's not an optional extra.

AlisaT
AlisaT

Found this article while searching for ways to explain the importance of social media to our small business clients. (I work for an internet marketing company in Australia, Think Big Online.) We have one bloke (lovely, clever business man) who insists that he doesn't need Facebook, he's got enough friends. We desperately want to change his opinion!

http://www.thinkbigonline.com.au/why-twitter-facebook-and-google-are-must-haves-in-your-seo-arsenal/

Your article really made me think that I need to ask him (and the many other resistant clients), WHY? Perhaps I have been pushing my excitement on them for what social media can do. Cheers, Alisa

FredH
FredH

As a Public Affairs Officer in the Army, I absolutely agree with the need to ask "why" whenever one of our organizations feels the need to begin connecting on social media platforms.  However, as you can imagine, asking "why" to a military commander must be done carefully and with a plan in mind.  The following link is the list of all known social media sites established by various units and organizations in the U.S. Army:  http://www.army.mil/media/socialmedia/

 

There are hundreds of sites, and some are much better than others.  In some cases, it is evident that the conversation went like this:

 

Commander:  "We need to be on Facebook!"

 

PAO (or some other staff member):  "Yes, sir!"

 

That's it.  The lack of a plan and purpose is very evident.  SM sites that are started with no goals in mind, are eventually forgotten about and go stagnant until a new commander arrives who starts the cycle all over again.  

 

Asking "why," as discussed in this post, is extremely important so that the entire organization understands the reasons and expected goals of operating and maintaining a SM presence.  Doing this will help to garner participation and support for the SM objectives.    The reasons may be as simple as just wanting another way to communicate with the families of the Soldiers.  Or, the approach may be more lofty in that the commander wants to address a wider audience outside of his/her organization.  As long as a clear vision is established, then the work to shape any SM effort can begin.  The worst that can happen is hearing "Ok, we have a facebook page.  Now what!"

 

I am a student at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College:  The opinions expressed here are my own and not those of my classmates or the U.S. Army.

 

davefleet
davefleet moderator

 @FredH thanks for the comment! What a fascinating perspective. How do you deal with asking these kinds of questions in an environment where the leadership isn't used to being questioned?

suneetaabraham
suneetaabraham

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Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

Don't only ask Why.

 

Also ask Who.

 

I am teaching a 4-week social media marketing course at a local college; and one of my students, a small business owner who is trying to understand whether and how to brand her company online, asked me last week whether Facebook would help.

 

I didn't ask her why Facebook would help. I asked her to define her prospective customers.

 

"Who are they?" I asked.

 

She answered in vague terms.

 

I pressed for details. "Where do they live?" "What are their interests?" "Which sports teams do they admire?" "Who is their role model?"

 

She answered me, one at a time.

 

I then paused and smiled at her, saying, "See? That is your prospect. Not the answer you gave before." She hadn't considered the details of who were her prospects, only that they existed.

 

Asking Why is very important, Dave, but so is Who.

Andrea Toole
Andrea Toole

 @Ari Herzog Well said, Ari. I'm saving that one in my little toolbox of social media resources.

Andrea Toole
Andrea Toole

Indeed. A while ago a freelance client (my mother) told me that she wanted a Twitter account for her company. I asked her why. When she answered, "Because [someone] told me I should have one." I told her that this wasn't a good enough answer and then presented two cases studies of Twitter accounts, one being that "someone's" and one being a person with a similar business who, in my opinion, was far for successful at using Twitter to engage. "Because everyone else is doing it" or "Because it's the new tool" isn't a good enough answer. Those answers don't sustain social media channels. Tell me your goals.

davefleet
davefleet moderator

 @andreat76 Precisely! Companies need to put business goals and objectives ahead of "oooh shiny." 

Andrea Toole
Andrea Toole

 @davefleet I also apply the motto "Just because you can doesn't mean you should" to pretty much everything in my life. Not every social media tool is right for everyone and it's a waste of resources such as time, energy and money to set everyone up when a simple analysis (or environmental scan) can help focus efforts to the channels that will truly be effective. It's kind of like matchmaking: Research the channels, research the business, and try to make the ideal match. It might not always work out, but it's better than pairing at random. (Though if all you're looking for is a one nighter - er, short term marketing campaign- that could work too.)

 

Damn, I need to remember that analogy in my next job interview. (Did you know I'm looking? As of this evening I'm a free agent.)

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