The Drive-Thru Mentality Of Social Media

February 8, 2011
By Lisa Barone in Social Media

I caught a bit of flack yesterday for my social media peeps after tweeting a post on why Quora and social media experts don’t mix. The post (which, admittedly, is more than a bit defensive) proposed one theory as to why Quora has received a lot of backlash from social media folks. James Hritz suggested it’s because social media experts aren’t used to actually investing in long-form social conversations. For all their unicorn talk about engagement and connecting, all they’re really doing is committing reputation arbitrage — following thousands of people on Twitter, retweeting the posts of the Social Media Elite, and gaining credibility through ‘costless’ and ‘riskless’ transactions.


But, okay, he maybe kind of has a point, doesn’t he?

Now before you scroll down to the comments to tell me why you hate Quora, realize I don’t care. I don’t care if you love Quora or if you’d prefer it die a thousand fiery deaths. That’s not the point of this post. The point is to take a look at how we’re using social media and to ask ourselves if it lines up with our expectations for what we’d like to get out of it. Got it? Relax.

Back to James.

In his post, James seems to argue that there are two different types of social media users. Here’s my representative of what it sounds like James is implying:

Social Media Type 1: A person who invests significant time in providing resources, building relationships, and partaking in full-length, ongoing conversations. [This is a prime Quora user, says James.]

Social Media Type 2: A person who participates in engagement drive-bys, talking to as many as people as possible in the shortest amount of time possible, and sharing lots of content from already-established experts. [This person hangs on the Twitter and has been labeled a “social media expert”.]

Drop the “expert” labels and just look at strategies.  Be honest – which strategy sounds most like yours? If you’re a service provider, which one sounds most like what you do for clients?

Because of the nature of my job, I get an opportunity to speak to a lot of business owners on the topic of social media and about the social media plans they’ve put in place. Most of their plans sound a bit like this:

  • Spend 10 minutes on Twitter every day.
  • During that time look for valuable content from A-listers to retweet.
  • Spend the remainder of your time trying to engage important people.

Yeah, that’s not social media. That’s lunch time at the high school cafeteria. No one’s impressed, nor eating the meatloaf.

There are many different ways to use social media and you can use it however you see fit. If you’re a larger brand and you want to use Twitter as a broadcast medium, you’re free to do that. But if you’re a small- to medium-sized business, then the drive-thru approach to social probably isn’t going to work for you. It’s going to leave you wondering why no one cares about your content and why they don’t want to talk to you.  When James calls people out for acting like this, he’s right. Of course, that has nothing to do with why people don’t like Quora.  Or Quora, at all.

Long form social media doesn’t have to be the one site James says it is.  Long form social contact may be interacting with someone on your blog. It might be the Twitter conversation you have with the same person every three days because you know you have to touch bases with them. It may be having regular discussions on your Facebook page. It might using a question and answer site to really establish thought leadership. The service you use doesn’t matter, what matters is that you’re using social media to be social. At a recent social media breakfast event in Schenectady, NY one of the speakers stated that people need to know how much you care before they care how much you know.

Live that.

For me, it’s not about whether you should be on Quora or LinkedIn or Twitter or any other site. It’s about having creating a satellite community where your audience knows can go to hear from you and where you can spend actual time providing value to someone. It’s where you offer more than a drive-thru experience, shouting at people who you’ll never hear from again.  Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve had this conversation, we just keep coming up with new names for it.

  • It’s the difference between short-form vs long-form social media.
  • It’s social media automation vs actual participation.
  • It’s being a passive social media users vs an active one.

As Loren Feldman would say, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you call it or what platforms you use – if you want to see ROI from social media, you have to stop treating it like a drive-thru experience. Spend real time, having real conversations, with real people.  Yeah, it takes more time and maybe more work, but the pay off is far greater and filled with way less filler.

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