Many people are salivating like rabid hounds to incorporate social networks in their web strategies. This isn’t news. It seems like the magic bullet: “we’ll all be rich if we can just figure out how to go viral in the social networks!”
I want to offer a word of caution, and 5 rules to do it right.
Social networks have existed since the origins of human communication. I speak with some people directly, and others through their connections, so I have a network of social ties.
In ancient times (the 1990′s), we maintained our social networks through silly things like emails, phone calls, and parties. Then websites started to pop up that allowed us to stay in touch with our friends… a lot more of them. We decided to call them social networks.
This misnomer has plagued us since.
Facebook is not a social network. It’s a platform for people to host a web version of their social network. Calling Facebook a social network suggests a singular, regimented set of individual connections, which is simply not the case.
In other words, Facebook plays host to millions of individuals’ personal networks.
This may seem like a useless semantic argument from a web insider, but this matters.
So-called “social networks” are not magical. The same strategies for success apply there as with any kind of word-of-mouth between customers and their close network of friends.
Which is to say, most people’s “social network strategy” is akin to relying on blind luck that people will love them enough to rave to friends.
Naturally, this is only half the story.
There are important measures to make sure you facilitate the word-of-mouth when it happens, but the key insight is that you’re more likely to go overboard than you are to take advantage of the low-hanging fruit.
And don’t forget cost. This ain’t free!
Don’t be lured by the illusion that free-of-charge means free-of-cost. Those who succeed spend tons of time working within the space, or spend plenty of money making their organization worthy of word-of-mouth.
Here are the 5 social networking rules to follow:
1) Get over the novelty
People talking to their friends through this new medium has vast sociological implications. For most businesses, that sociological change is completely irrelevant.
At a fundamental level, social networks are just another way people communicate directly with friends.
2) Social networks aren’t right for everyone
People talk about businesses worth talking about. Duh. Unless you’re worthy of word-of-mouth, flooding a new channel is a waste of time.
Not every successful business is a word-of-mouth business. Don’t feel obligated to overwhelm your existing strategy with a new direction.
That being said… we can all agree that word-of-mouth businesses are the best businesses out there (another duh). Maybe you should be one?
But don’t confuse your social networking strategy with your business strategy. Deciding to be a business worthy of word-of-mouth is a much larger decision, and requires a whole different mindset.
I happily encourage you to be a business worth caring about.
3) Be present, but get out of the way
The first step for success is just to be there. Be listening to what people are saying about you and make it easy for people to spread the message by giving them resources like stories and pictures.
But mostly, get the hell out of the way. If people want to talk about you, they will.
Talk to your passionate fans, give them what they want, and ask them to tell people. The rest is out of your control.
People build their social networks, it’s theirs, so get your grubby hands off it. Interrupting people who are busy ignoring you is a surefire way to lose them.
Please understand that 15-25 year old Facebook users are largely anti-establishment, anti-consumerism, anti-corporation, and anti-authority. Proceed with caution and extreme honesty.
4) If you must advertise, be highly relevant
There is not overwhelming evidence that inappropriately targeted Facebooks ads are any more effective than setting your money on fire and stomping on it like a rhinocerous. Admittedly, I haven’t yet seen any field research on that. If you’d like to fund some, contact me.
Strictly targeting by demographic is useless because Facebook users aren’t in the buying state, discovery state, or any other mental state where they would give a hoot about you.
Facebook users are in the socializing state.
If you have something relevant based on their socializing, they’ll be ready to hear what you have to say (and the demographic targeting will be absurdly effective).
5) Be a human being
Being human is a rule of business in general (people buy from people), but especially true in the faceless anonymity of the web.
If you’re a small company CEO or individual, for goodness sake, don’t pretend you’re not!
More than ever, being small and personal is a distinct advantage in business. Overwhelmed with modern economic life, attention scarcity, and constant subjugation to big business consumerism … we’re refreshed by the human approach.
Sorry to go off on one of my sociology rants, but the 21st century will be about personal, local, and organic (in all of it’s meanings). Get started now.
Here’s the thing
I think there is nothing more important than being a business worth caring about. For all sorts of philosophical reasons, I think life is too short and precious to separate business success from your personal satisfaction and connection with society.
So-called social networking websites make it more PROFITABLE to be this kind of business because when people tell their friends, the message spreads farther and faster.
It is more economically feasible to transform your business into a word-of-mouth business now than ever before.
And that is the reason Facebook is still worth caring about.