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Can We Talk? Why Your Company’s Social Media Needs to Sound Human

business dog on phone attempts to sound human

You may not think that a book written about the internet in 1999 would have much to offer us in the realm of web marketing today, but think again. Here’s a snippet of The Cluetrain Manifesto that was dead-on about the fundamentals:

“…Markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.”

—The Cluetrain Manifesto

There are so many marketers who go through great pains to try and fake the human voice, and sometimes it even works—kind of.  But the point is not just to sound like you’re interested in talking to your customers.  You have to have an honest desire to do it (at least for the business’s sake).  Maybe you’re a business owner who wants to give your brand a presence on social media platforms—but odds are you’d prefer not to play the role of reaching out to the masses yourself.  Time to hire it out.

If you feel that you’re ready to grant that exalted ‘Social Media Officer’ title to someone, keep in mind that you need to allow them enough independence to do an effective job.  It won’t turn out so well if their conversational skills are being stifled by super-strict guidelines and intrusive micromanagement.  Who has time to micromanage anyway?  It’s already tough enough to macromanage.  Er, manage.  On the other side of the coin, you don’t want to give your marketers so much independence that they’re totally lacking guidance from you.  You should take the time to give them a clear sense of your goals.

How Does Twitter Help My ROI?

Here’s something that’s important to keep in mind:  Genuine conversations can seem unproductive, if you observe them with an impatient eye.  But if you engage in real conversations and allow time to take its course, you’ll find that it’s a fruitful thing.  Just think of a time when you found yourself chatting with someone you’d just met, only to discover that you shared some significant common ground.  You may have been surprised when you reached that common ground so easily, but that can happen all the time when you allow your conversations to unfold organically.

These not-so-lofty claims are especially true for social media, where you can hold multiple conversations simultaneously.

Building Business Relationships Isn’t Rocket Science

John Q. Public trusts the opinions of his friends when he’s looking to hire a contractor or what-have-you.  But don’t just wear a vague veneer of friendliness; that’s crap and you know it (may I be blunt?).  Basically, my general approach for applying this to business is the same as it would be for everyday human-to-human communication:

  • Care about what you’re saying.
  • Listen to what the other person is saying.
  • Be aware of the balance of give and take in your exchanges.

Wait, that’s it?  Yeah, pretty much.  If you’ll be so kind as to read a little further, you’ll get an idea of what I mean by this give and take dynamic.

Seth Fiegerman brings up a basic but valuable subject in his article about businesses ‘acting human’.  The part that stuck with me was a business owner saying:

“Being more personal, being not afraid or not shy about being personal, that’s what people want.”

Anti-Social Media

When it comes to your social media strategy, don’t allow your company to behave like a little clique of close friends who go to a party together, only to stand and chat in an impenetrable circle.  A lot of businesses tend to keep a self-obsessed perspective in their communications, and I think they do that because they’re too afraid to embrace the unpredictable nature of true conversation.  They don’t want to relinquish the comfy bubble of control that they’re used to having.  And admittedly, it can be scary to open your business up to the great unknowns of interacting with the public.  If you let these kinds of hang-ups limit you, it can give way to the oh-so-common practice of ‘broadcasting’, or announcing things to the world without engaging with anyone.  This leaves you with a robotic, press release mentality, as shown on the Facebook page of this restaurant:
How to suck at twitter

As you can see, they only poke their heads out once in a long while to release a droll listing of information.  It looks like a list of meeting notes.  Their Halloween costume party might be a hell of a barnburner for all we know, but here they missed the opportunity to spread the word effectively on Facebook.  While it is a decent way of getting the raw facts out there about upcoming events, it’s not a good way of drumming up excitement, driving likes, or getting your event information shared. One thing that their marketing team could have tried is some cross-promotion with the musical guest of their Halloween party.  That would help them with link building as well. Since pictures always perform better than plain text when it comes to social media sharing, they could have also reached out to the previous year’s guests to collect costume photos for the next year’s event. The sky was the limit, but unfortunately this business chose to stay on the ground floor.

Next, this coffee company has a lot of Twitter followers, but they don’t seem to be interacting with any of them.  As a result, they aren’t getting responses to any of their posts.  If you happened to see that they have thousands of followers (which they do), you might think that their social media strategy is working on Twitter.  But beware that there are ways—usually via automation—in which a Twitter account can collect tons of generic followers without building many useful relationships.  The tweet below is one of countless similar ones on the coffee company’s account:

coffee company uses twitter to hear themselves talk

The lesson here?  If you’re talking to nobody in particular, there’s a strong chance that you’ll be hearing back from nobody in particular.  As a representative of your brand, keep in mind that the public isn’t just standing by, waiting for you to come and speak into a cluster of microphones. By that token, avoid writing impersonal, self-focused posts.

How to Be Late To the Party – With Style

If you’re not sure where to start with this whole conversation thing, one option is to look for online communities where conversations are already happening.  When you’ve found a community, page, or public account where you’d like to participate and make yourself known, don’t just butt in suddenly with your own agenda.  If you do that, you’ll rub people the wrong way.

On Twitter for example, It’s all too often that I see an account where they keep writing the same thing in “personalized” tweets directed at individual users that they’ve never spoken to before.

coffee company uses twitter to hear themselves talk

It comes off as spammy and insincere if you address someone with a sales spiel out of nowhere.  It’s much better to converse with them naturally, and let your sales mind sit on the backburner for a moment.

The Sweet Spot for Social Media: Casual yet Competent

The people in this next example are good at interacting, being social, and having casual conversations.  Their manner of ‘speaking’ may be less formal than what you want your business to sound like, but we can see here that they did a solid job of addressing technical issues—and in a way that didn’t bore the pants off their audience.  In return, they got a piece of useful information from a fan.

In this little interaction between TRI Studios and one of their listeners/viewers, we can see that it’s possible to be candid in conversation, while still showing that you’re serious about being reliable in the services that you provide.  Lo and behold, we can recognize a distinct personality in the tweets of the TRI Studios rep.

TRI studios responds to a grateful dead fan on twitter

Even if you feel that your brand needs to project a professional image, there are plenty of ways to inject a little bit of levity into your communication with the public. You can do this, while continuing to show that you care about getting the job done right.  If you were a Twitter user talking to the TRI Studios guy above, you wouldn’t feel like you’re having a “customer service” discussion.

Now, take a look at this electrical service company’s Facebook post.  They start off a conversation on a funny foot, and the subject matter is still related to their industry:

That post went on to receive more attention than Gentec’s serious, industry-related posts from around the same time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Every additional like, share, and comment that Gentec earns on his lighter posts will help him get more eyes, likes, and shares on his drier posts (pun intended). It also helps remind their audience that there are actual people running the show – which is a must for any business. Even Walmart.

Let’s make sure to consider why most people are hanging out on social media networks in the first place.  The average person flocks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. for fun and some exploration of their interests.  Marketing-wise, the kind of content that gets attention is often funny, but it doesn’t have to be really jokey or wacky.

Take a look at Charmin’s Twitter account, for instance:

Keep it Simple, Stupid

Remember that your brand doesn’t necessarily have to produce media-heavy content. If you put too much focus on producing slick video clips and the like, you might wear your budget too thin.  Sometimes you can just have conversations with people.  After all, those people are hanging out on social media platforms because they want to interact, share and comment.  Go ahead and give them more reasons to keep doing just that, and they’ll love you for it if you do.

For a (lot) more information on how to run a social media account for your business, visit the Beginner’s Guide to Social Media by Moz.

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