5 Ways We Could Improve Social Media Together

February 22, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Social Media

It’s time, folks. It’s time to start demanding more from social media and working toward improving this thing together. Because right now we’re all floating in a boring sea of mediocrity and “look at me!”, and it’s really not pretty.  It’s not also not particularly effective.

Eighteen months ago it was okay to keep on with the social media auto-pilot. It was the norm. We were all getting adjusted and trying to figure out “what works”. But at some point that has to come to an end. We have to grow up. We have to grow up because not only does the same old crap not work anymore, but now it (and you) is just annoying. You are annoying people with what you’re doing.  The shiny phase of social media is over and it’s now simply one of the many tools that we have available to spread our message, to connect with our core and to promote what we do to the people who may be inclined to care. And the effectiveness and our ability to actually do that is diminishing because we’re not evolving with it. People trust ‘people like them’ less (maybe) because we’ve changed what that term means. We need to change with it. We need to improve upon how we’re using social media.

Here are some ways I think we could improve social media today if we’d be brave enough to demand more.

[hit play, then read post aloud.]

Imagine…

If we stopped automating social media

Scott Stratten wrote a fantastic post last week about why Twitter automation is bad and in that post he absolutely nails my issue with it. He does so, in part, because of lines like this:

There is no such thing as programmed authenticity.
Absent tweeting is dictation, not engagement. Lecturing, not listening.

That, for me, is the crux. When users decide to follow the New York Times, they’re doing it to be lectured at. They want the automated headlines. That’s why they’re following that account. However, you have a huge competitive advantage over the New York Times. You don’t have to tweet like that. As a small business, you can be a real person. You can offer more. Why would you want to throw automation in and ruin it? I’ll tolerate light automation in my feed. If you want to tweet a blog post out while you’re still in dreamland, I’ll live with it. But when you’re using automation to consistently fake a presence and make it look like you’re there when you’re not, that bothers me.  Relationship-building takes time and if you don’t want to invest that time, don’t invest in social media. Go do something else. It’s that simple. The more you automate your participation in social media, the more you take yourself out of it. And the more obvious it is that you’re not there for me. Evolve beyond that.

If we only shared things we actually liked

Dear God, imagine the freedom if you only promoted and shared content that you really liked instead of everything you felt pressured to? Imagine how much the noise/signal ratio would improve if we were only passing around content that we genuinely thought deserved it? Imagine how much less of a shill you’d feel like every day? And what it might feel like to set the bar higher and encourage people to be better than they currently are? It’d be our own little utopia.

This is one area where I think, collectively, we need to improve. Social media gives you license to express who you are, what you like and what you stand for. And we should be reflecting that in the content that we share with others. Promote the stuff you love and that you think others could learn from. Stop promoting crap just so that other people will promote your crap. No one gets anywhere by praising the mediocre or when we’re all awarded trophies regardless of where we place. Legitimately compete for attention.

If we looked at social media like a tool

Have you ever spoken to a business owner right before they enter social media? They start talking about it and their eyes light up and their speech patterns resemble someone who’s had a dozen too many Red Bulls. They get themselves high on the concept and the opportunity. But I have a feeling if you asked them, in that moment, to define social media that their answers would look something like this:

MAGIC!
UNICORNS!
FAERIEES!

Social media is not magic. Social media is a tool. And when you look at it like a tool rather than all of these “other things” you put more attention on how you’re using it, what you’re getting from it and how you could be increasing your ROI from it. When you look at it like a tool, you treat it like one and put metrics on what you’re doing. Creating a social media plan and putting accountability to actions is the next step in the social media evolution.

[you probably have to hit play again]

If we learned how to disagree

I’ve already blogged about this, but there’s way too much agreement going on in social media. It’s simply not natural. No one is right all the time. We are not all gurus or experts or whatever it is we feel like calling ourselves these days. And we don’t have to throw mud at one another in order to share a dissenting opinion. Sometimes we can just disagree. Like adults. And have a healthy debate where people come away smarter.

I miss that in my life online. Hell, I miss it in my life offline. To offer a contradicting opinion or to question someone often results in hurt feelings or defensiveness. We all need to stop being babies and embrace public criticism because that’s how we move the conversation and improve our businesses. Just try it. Next time someone disagrees with you, engage instead of getting defensive. And really engage, just don’t break out the corporate speak.  And next time you disagree with someone, tell them, respectfully. Explain your line of thought. It doesn’t make you a bully. It shows you’re listening.

If we paid more attention to the local tie-in

The full strength of social media comes when it’s being used to connect you with people in your neighborhood. Whether your neighborhood relates to a geographic radius or a community on the Web, that’s where it’s uniquely powerful. Instead of chasing follower or friend numbers, chase the localness that social media offers. Don’t get yourself robbed, but look for local tie-ins with platforms like FourSquare and Gowalla to identify and reward active customers. Use tools like Advanced Twitter Search, Twellow or TwitterGrader to pinpoint the people in your neighborhood and create incentives for them to visit you. In today’s world even celebrities are using Twitter and creating Facebook pages. But just because the whole world is there doesn’t mean the whole world is now your audience. In most cases, your audience hasn’t changed. You just have new tools to reach out to them. Don’t forget about your core now that the whole world is watching.  Use the new tools to get even more personal with the person living down the street.

There are a lot of ways I think we could combine to improve social media for everyone. Above are simply five things we could all start doing right now if we wanted to. What’s bugging you and how do you think we could change it?

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