I tweeted that this morning. And in between the RTs, were a couple of people asking me what I meant.

So, here’s what I meant.

I meant that you should stop listening to other people’s research and jump in the mud yourself.

Social media is maturing. It’s maturing in the sense that people are more concerned than ever with obtaining ROI. And while I agree with Scott Stratten that there are PLENTY of other areas where we could use an ROI intervention, I understand that our clients are engaging in social media to increase their bottom line. It’s not about rainbows and faeries and unicorns for them; social media is about putting more money into their pocket. That’s why Outspoken Media creates social media strategies designed for that purpose. And when it’s not cost-effective for us to run your social media strategy, we’ll actually tell you that. As a small business ourselves, we’re not in the habit of wasting people’s money. We get ROI.

Actually, we live by ROI.

But chasing the ROI Unicorn is as dangerous as chasing the Engagement Unicorn as both result in tunnel vision and make you more susceptible to following false idols and bad advice. While the ROI Unicorn may not instruct you to “make friends” with your customers or to “be helpful”, he’s equally dangerous.

There are many traces of ROI Unicorns on the Web. They’re the ilk that wants to focus on the most retweetable words, tell you what you should NEVER say to your audience (don’t talk about yourself, don’t be negatives, etc), offer guidelines on how to go viral/get famous and wants you to sleep cuddling the Unicorn’s analytics so you can check them when you wake up at 2am, 4am, and then again at 4:15am.  The ROI Unicorn thinks social media follows a script that can be hacked by following the actions of strangers. They’re ONLY concerned with the money side of social. There’s a problem with this.

The ROI Unicorn ignores what’s important to your audience. The ROI Unicorn only knows what his data tells him about Twitter users as a whole. That can be helpful in establishing some early best practices, but you can’t base a real strategy around it. For that, you need to do your own research. Because the stats and pretty charts are only helpful when they’re done based on the people you’re trying to reach. Otherwise, you’re simply squatting on other people’s information.

That’s about as effective as using your father’s Amazon.com recommendations to pick out a birthday gift for your best friend.

Hi. Bad intel. Wrong audience.

My friend Tony Adam had a fantastic post yesterday urging people to listen to themselves, not other people. And he’s right.

Listen to your data.
Listen to your research.
Listen to your experiences.
Listen to your audience.

But to do that, it means you have to actually be doing the listening. You have to be getting dirty with your own audience. You need to have your hands in their habits, their interests and their interactions so that you’re able to understand what excites them and what works. Even if what works isn’t supposed to work because the ROI Unicorns told you it wouldn’t.

The ROI Unicorns may be looking at great data types, but if the data isn’t about the people you’re trying to reach, where’s the use? The only stats that matter are your own.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Ed Abrams, Vice President of IBM Midmarket Business [look for my interview with him on SmallBizTrends next week], about how IBM uses social media and what he felt was most important for business owners to jump on. One thing he stressed was the importance of experimentation. To always be trying new things, to introduce new elements in your strategy and to take advantage of that real-time feedback. Because that’s how you’re going to find success, be it in social media, SEO or anything else.

You learn by digging in and reacting to what you’re seeing. All generic data is going to earn you is generic failure because generic is the norm and most people fail.

I’m more than aware that I “break” nearly all of the “what to do/what not do” rules that people list out as Best Practices and Must Follows. I see the lists, people email me the posts. But I break them because that’s what my audience wants from me and it’s why they follow me. I’m not doing it wrong. I’m doing it my way. And I’m doing it based off my calculations.

My social media approach probably isn’t the one you should be using. You need to walk a different line and maybe not have so many emotional outbursts in public. But you won’t know that until you give a shot. You won’t know it until you dare to try and follow your instincts. Until you do your own damn research and stop blindly listening to everyone else’s.

As Tony wrote, listen to yourself, no one else.

I’ve commented before that we need to stop looking for the rules or believing data other people prepare. Because there are no rules and there is no perfect system. All there is a mud pit waiting for us to jump in. That’s where your answers are.

So jump.


About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.


9 thoughts on “Success Means Getting Dirty With Your Audience


  • Michael Dorausch on said:

    Our data, our research, and our experiences seem to often conflict with what’s reportedly working for others or being suggested. Industry specific, we are doing things that are strongly recommended not to do (by industry gurus) but it’s our office and our ride, so I’ll keep doing it my way (even if it’s not the ‘best’ way.)

    I love stats and data but there’s a lot of real world stuff that gets overlooked or goes unreported. Guidelines are great but rules may be broken (or at least bent) at times in order to get desired results, and there’s no way of knowing what to bend or break unless you’re out there making it happen.

    I’m following TA’s advice. :)


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      Totally agree, Michael. Sometimes I think the “research” more gets in the way than anything else because it’s research that’s not based on your core audience. What do you care what works for someone else? It’s what works for you that you need to concern yourself with. I’m doing everything wrong by most respected accounts but, it’s working okay for me.


  • Bonnie on said:

    Thanks for another great article, Lisa. I love this: “I’m not doing it wrong. I’m doing it my way.”
    But how do you answer a client’s questions about “Why do I need social media?” with specific data for his industry, when all the available data is generic? (Assuming this is someone who likes data.) How do you get specific data if you haven’t had the opportunity to serve that industry yet and create your own?


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      I think you can sell social media by using the generic, “this is what X company was able to achieve” stories or, better yet, showing how the company’s competition is using it. But I don’t think you can create your own strategy by using someone else’s generic numbers. You need to understand your own audience to figure out how to connect with them.


      • Bonnie on said:

        “…showing how the company’s competition is using it.” Yep, that would definitely get their interest — thanks! (Might get a bit tricky if the client asks about the results of the competitor’s activities, though.)
        “You need to understand your own audience…” That’s the key. Offering generic solutions based on generic data is what most consultants tend to do. I’m glad to hear you’re doing it all wrong — and getting better results!


  • Scott Stratten on said:

    “That’s about as effective as using your father’s Amazon.com recommendations to pick out a birthday gift for your best friend.”

    Awesome. Stealing it. May or may not give credit.


  • Tony Adam on said:

    Lisa, first and foremost, thanks for the shout out!

    I couldn’t agree more with this post, the truth of the matter is there is sooo much BS that people tell us to do in Social Media, but, in reality goals, ROI, etc. are all different for all types of people and brands. I’ve come to a point where I block out almost all of the noise, go heads down and look data and conversations around the vertical I’m in and then develop a plan from there. People always ask me…”what should be my goal for social” and I’ll tell them “i have no clue…you tell me what the goals of your business are.”

    Great post!


  • Carmen Sognonvi on said:

    Loved this post, Lisa! There’s an ROI Unicorn, but I think there’s also a Best Practices Unicorn – the one that dictates that all businesses in an industry should market themselves the exact same way because It Just Works.

    But if you’re a local business especially, you need to adapt “best practices” to suit the specific traits of your clientele and your geographic area.

    We ran into this issue quite a lot in the early days of opening Urban Martial Arts, our karate school in Brooklyn, NY. There were a lot of ideas that worked well for schools in the ‘burbs, but many of them just didn’t translate for us because our students’ urban lifestyles were so different.

    Many of our families walk, they don’t drive. Many of our kids come to class by themselves, their parents don’t stay and watch. There’s a heck of a lot of stuff to do in NYC – which means that not everyone is flocking to your social event because it’s the only thing going on that night.

    I still think that best practices are useful when you’re just starting out on social media, but as you point out – it’s important to test and see if things are actually working for your particular audience.


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