There’s Nothing Magical About Social Media Principles

Beware the "magic"

We often hear how social media is “different” – how it changes everything about your communications. How you have to throw the old rules out the window when launching into social media tools. I respectfully disagree.

Too many “social media experts” treat these kinds of principles as though they separate social media from other forms of communication, probably because they’ve never practiced those other forms and only have preconceptions to go on.

There’s nothing magical about the principles people discuss for social media – there are just nuances in their application.

Here are a few principles that get banded about as “social media” principles, but which apply across different forms of communication and across different channels:

  • There is no silver bullet solution
  • Target your audiences
  • Messaging matters
  • Customer service affects your image
  • Tailor your approach
  • You rise and fall on relationships
  • Measurement is key

There is no silver bullet solution

Whether you’re launching a traditional media relations campaign, a store-based promotion or a series of advertisements, there’s no single solution to your problem. Social media is no different.

There’s no stand-alone “kit” to solve every problem – just as with every other communications discipline, you need to create it based on the situation.

Target your audiences

Every so often I see people opinionating about how targeting is an obsolete concept in digital communications. I really want to talk to those peoples’ clients.

When you’re formulating a communications plan, tactics come close to last in the development process. You think through the context, through your objectives, through your audiences and through your strategic approach before reaching your tactics. Why? Because your tactics should vary depending on those factors. 

Is the audience for your raw iron ore on Twitter? Maybe (I haven’t done the research), but I doubt it. Regardless of whether you’re looking online or offline in your communications, you need to figure out how best to reach the people who are important to your business. If you think targeting doesn’t matter, you go ahead with that Twitter outreach on iron ore. Just don’t send me your resume when you’re fired.

Fail to target your audiences, and your communications will fall short regardless of whether they’re social media tactics or not.

Messaging matters

Messaging still matters. The words you use affect how people perceive you. However, communicators need to realize that in traditional media, in advertising, in social media and in other communications, repeating the same messages over and over again (politicians do this especially badly) doesn’t work. People, both journalists and potential customers alike, tune it out.

Customer service affects your image

Experiences matter more than the words in print. You can blather away all you like to that reporter from the Globe and Mail; if you’re leaving your customers on hold for an hour, they won’t care what they read in the paper. Your words will ring hollow.  

The same applies to social media tools. Do a Twitter Search of your company name. What are people saying about you? Do a search on Facebook too, and one on Google Blogsearch, and on BackType, Technorati, IceRocket, EveryZing and so on. Are people complaining about your appalling service levels? Same effect as above.

Unique to social media? No. Important everywhere? Yes.

Tailor your approaches

When you pick up the phone and call an editor at the Toronto Star, that conversation is informed by all of the prior conversations you’ve had with him. You know that he’s interested in certain kinds of stories, that Wednesday is a bad day to call him and that he’s a visual learner who likes to see things for himself. So, tailor your approach to him. When you call his counterpart at the Toronto Sun, you know she approaches things a different way so adjust accordingly.

Blogger relations isn’t some mysterious black hole. The principles remain the same as good media relations. Know your audience; tailor your approach to them; give them content that helps them.

You rise and fall on relationships

It takes a long time to develop relationships, and you can burn them in an instant if you abuse them.

Online or off, the people who succeed are the people who build relationships with other people. It doesn’t matter if you’re calling a client, a colleague, a journalist or a blogger – those conversations are built on your past interactions.

The same goes for your customers, too – do they have transactions with you, or is it an ongoing engagement?

Anyone who suggests that this is unique to social media is in need of a clue as to how to succeed in the real world.

Measurement is key

If you tell me that measurement doesn’t matter in traditional media relations, I’ll laugh you out of the room. Now, as much as ever, companies are being forced to justify their budgets in all areas. Whether you’re producing ads, pitching journalists or building an online community, if you can’t measure your outcomes then good luck renewing your budget.

Closing thoughts

There are plenty of other examples I could give. Shel Holtz and Todd Defren – two guys with way more experience than me – both wrote interesting posts on the subject of “campaigns” yesterday. Again, as they’ll agree, while short-term initiatives work it’s always been more effective to build coverage over time than to go through constant, expensive one-day wonders.

These aren’t social media principles – they’re communications principles.

What do you think?

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.