Master these six things…and you will have (nearly) mastered (almost) all social media

 

All social networking websites and mobile apps have these six things in common (Well, not all of them, but the alarming majority). Understand the use of these six key systems for effectiveness, and timeliness, and you’ll have almost mastered the whole of online social media.

 

1. Home again, home again…

It’s the first thing you see when you log in to just about any social networking website. The home page is where you receive information from all the sources you have asked the website to provide. If you’re new to any particular site, most will make recommendations based on what little they know about you. This is why many new sites ask you to log in through Facebook, or other places you may have an account, so they can download lots of information about you in an instant.

Try it now. Go to Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ or Twitter – whichever one is your favorite. Your friends, faves, pages, follows, circles – whatever you name it, if you attached yourself to it, this is where you will find the incoming feed. Some sites even refer to it as the News Feed.

Many people will waste hours just refreshing their home page to update the incoming stream of information. Twitter is great for this. They even make it easy for you to see how much new information has come in since you’ve last updated so you know there’s something new to see.

Facebook has come under serious fire in the past few years by trying to control the news in the feed. By first introducing EdgeRank, an algorithmic computer program that would filter information (supposedly) tailored for the user – you – to improve the overall experience and keep you on Facebook longer.

This may actually be a brilliant idea for Facebook, but marketers and members cried foul!  Facebook’s solution…kill Edge Rank (or so they say) and introduce an even uglier program that now uses over one-hundred thousand factors to determine how and what information you see on your own home page.

I have talked to several professionals who are leaving Facebook and using Instagram for its more real-time-sharing home-page interface. Well, now that Instagram is owned by Facebook, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s only a matter of time before Instagram adopts a similar filtering regiment, thereby making it difficult for businesses to manipulate the low cost/high organic reach of this digital social channel.

Let’s not be fooled. These websites know that the value is in the home page. When they reach the desired position of having the attention of hundreds of millions of users, it’s obvious they would seek out ways to maximize the value of what they are bringing to us virtually for free.

 

2. Profiles and/or Pages

Social networking websites and apps know that the real value is in the home page and news feed, but they needed to provide an access point to allow users to gain access to these features.  Doing this also gives the websites almost endless opportunities to barrage their members with an unending melee of questions, probing for the finest bits of data to add to their unquenchable desire for more knowledge. Remember, knowledge is power, and it’s never been more true in the twenty-first century.

Profiles are the little identities we create, that allow us to move about the realm of whichever site we choose to use to interact with other folks. I can remember creating my first AOL profile almost 20 years ago and considering all the options carefully. I couldn’t use my own name – no one was doing that. And since I was the new kid on the block, I certainly didn’t want to draw attention to myself so I did what any other sensible young man in his twenties would do…I created an alias. I created an avatar.

It wasn’t spectacular but it did grant personalized access to the internet. I could surf the web, pop in to chat rooms for an interactive experience with a bunch of total strangers and I could even make friends, which I did quite well.

I discovered, the hard way, that people believed whatever you told them. I believed these total strangers, too. I was so gullible. If they put it in their profile, who was I to think it was untrue. If you say in your profile that you are someone of importance (i.e. CEO of a company or professor at a prestigious university), people will treat you accordingly. I had discovered the power of personal branding and the multipliers that online social can add to this.

The Social Media profile is an incredibly potent ally. I often advise individuals who claim they can’t sell their services, for one reason or another (i.e. securities, insurance, legal, accounting, etc…), through digital social channels. My advice: why would you be selling there anyway? Be social, then let your profile description do the work.

It’s the new business card. You meet someone, you exchange names, you talk a little business, then you exchange cards. If they want to know more, they’ll look you up. If not, stop trying to kill them with your sales message. They stopped listening a long time ago and have moved on mentally. If you’re in a sales roll anywhere, try this instead:

Whenever you meet someone new, be a human first. If they like you and ask the standard small talk question, “What do you do?”, let them know without giving them a reason to raise any walls. If they press you for more information, schedule a visit for a more appropriate time. If they ask for your contact, or offer theirs unsolicited, offer them your card.

When they Google you, attempt to connect with you on LinkedIn, or whatever they feel is appropriate, make sure that your profile is doing the next stage of the sale. Offer a little more information and ALWAYS provide a link to a website, you control, that can do the rest of the work. It’s 2014…use the tools. They are available in abundance!

 

 

Profiles vs. Pages

People you meet in professional settings are going to want to connect with you online. If you don’t want to be their friend on Facebook or say you want to keep your personal and professional accounts separated (if you do, don’t tell me about it, I think it’s a bad move every time), then there are options:

The first option is to create a page on Facebook. This works different than a profile and will allow you to keep your friends in one corral and your business in another. However, I suggest you strongly consider always being you on your social media.

One word of caution – This does not mean you should duplicate this strategy on Google+, LinkedIn , Pinterest or any of the slew of other sites that give you this option. No, I do not suggest you create a Twitter account for your personal and one for your business persona. For that, I suggest option #2…

The second option, and certainly my least favorite, is to refrain from having a personal presence on social media and keep it purely professional. I have some icky feeling about this, and I know a few individuals personally who would NEVER be able to pull this off.

If you’re an opinionated type who enjoys having a personal voice, I suggest option one. If you’re a private, introverted person who would like to avoid your business contacts from showing up at your home or at the family reunion (neither of these have ever happened to me, by the way, and I chose option one), then I suggest the second option for you.

Now that you have your profile set up, you’re familiar with the home page and you’re ready for more, I suggest you move on to number three…

 

3.  Social Search

Every social media comes with a search engine. Facebook calls it Open Graph. Twitter even has an advanced search site. LinkedIn gives you the options to search various categories or everything at once. And Google+ is kind of an obvious one.

I have a love/hate relationship with search on most social sites and apps. Instagram is great for searching tags and users, but I can’t search keywords. Facebook’s search is pretty awful, but has yielded some interesting discoveries in the past. LinkedIn is finicky. YouTube is the most useful. Vine is getting better, but…

The best use I have found for searching social networks has been when I am not looking for anything specific. I love to get on Tumblr, Reddit or Pinterest and just explore. I find the most interesting things. For a brief period of time, I almost feel like a regular person, getting to use the site or app the way it was intended.

Quora is another site where getting lost in a search query is almost as fun as playing an online game. Another is StumbleUpon, a perpetual home page that makes recommendations (call it “auto-search”) based on the answers to a few questions they asked when you first signed up.

Gary Vaynerchuk has often given Twitter search a lot of credit for his popularity. Sure, it’s not the only thing, but it was his ability to first search-out, listen-to and then respond to individuals that had given him a leg up, not only in the wine world, but as a well paid and respected media consultant.

I used search on AOL all those years ago to find conversations, first by thinking about who I wanted to talk to and then exploring where they may be gathering. On a personal note, I often had a date several nights of the week thanks to my social search skills. I was working at Disneyland back then and all I had to do was search where the girls of Orange County, California were chatting online, drop in and mention my place of employment and BOOM, I was suddenly very popular (Girls love to go on dates to Disneyland and I had almost unlimited access to the place. It’s not the same these days, but I’m sure some enterprising young man is making full use of the social scene surrounding the parks).

If that was the case for finding a date, could it be the same for finding business? You bet. First, think about who you want or need to be talking to, where do they hang out online (or do they?  Trust me, they do!), and then drop in and start a conversation.

 

4.  Private or Direct Message

I was fortunate that I got my start in digital connectivity on AOL. Once a public conversation started in a chat room, it was so easy to move it to a private conversation and continue to talk uninterrupted.

Once there, I had my audiences full attention, and if I made a mistake, I was shielded from embarrassment, but if it went well, not only did I get to move my prospect to the next stage of the process, but real connectivity was taking place and people get to really open up and bond.

Some communication apps, like Snapchat for example, are not really social media – at least not yet. Snapchat is a site built almost entirely on the premise of the PM, or the Private Message, or what is referred to on Twitter as the Direct Message.

I love to PM my friends. Facebook has an impressive mobile app just for this purpose (not to mention individual and group chat on the website) and the functionality gets better every day. They recently showed how much they value the future of private messaging by making a purchase of mobile texting application, WhatsApp. Since the purchase, Facebook has made several upgrades to their private messaging platform, and something tells me they’re far from done.

Twitter Direct Messages (DM’s) have been the subject of scrutiny in years past, but by blocking individuals from sending DM’s,  unless the individual receiving the message follows them, they have avoided the fallout of misuse of the function by those who fail to understand the nature of connectivity through social media.

I often take a public Twitter conversation private (or Direct) once it’s established that it’s no longer something that needs to be discussed in public – such as exchanging phone numbers or personal email addresses.  The Twitter-owned mobile app, Vine, recently launched VM or their own version of private and direct chat through the Vine mobile app.

Some networks, like LinkedIn, Meetup and Google+, while they have private messaging features, almost always devolve into straight email conversations. Others, like Pinterest, without the private messaging feature (probably something you will see eventually) give the user the option to integrate or link to other social sites that do offer PM’s as an option.

You’ll find that many sites that don’t offer all six of the features mentioned here offer some type of integration or a place to include links where people are more inclined to interact – like Twitter and Facebook.

 

5.  “You’ve Got Mail!”

One feature that will always live on every social media is probably the biggest cause of mental disorder in the modern age. Yep, I’m talking about notifications.

So, what’s so special about notifications that would require one to “master the skill” of being notified? Well, we live in the busiest time in the history of humanity. Bells, buzzers, ringers and tones are begging for our attention. Many of my friends have left various social channels because managing the constant barrage of notifications began to feel like it was ruling their lives. This is tragic. Who’s in charge of these notifications anyway?

Notifications are often the very first thing we see when we log in. It tells us that someone else is either talking to us, about us or responding to a piece of information that we disseminated at an earlier time. Who doesn’t like knowing that other people are thinking about us?

This has created a kind of epidemic where employers are working to keep people from checking their notifications throughout the day. However I think it’s a matter of education and will someday become the new cigarette break – The Social Notification Break, or something like that. I’m sure the college kids will call it something catchy.

I can recall one good friend who told me that his wife requires that he puts his phone in another room after 7PM so they can enjoy each other’s company, free from distraction. I have personally been the victim of, “too much information,” and made the choice to place my device out of view. That put me on the path to discover a better option.

How does one go through life without letting these pesky notifications dull the value of living? I’m not sure we do. Not completely of course, but I do have a few suggestions.

To start, I turned to my email activity: I have recently decided that any email subscription that does not get some type of action gets unsubscribed from. I am taking this model to my social notifications. If I want to know what’s going on in your Facebook group, and I’m not capable of remembering I’m a member and can’t just go there and check, then I guess it wasn’t that important in the first place.

I’ve turned off every nonessential notification and my life has improved greatly. Recently, I had a situation with my iPhone which forced me to download and reinstall every app I’ve ever used. I’m fairly certain that 100% of the apps that I have reinitialized to date have asked permission to send me Push Notifications – I’m happy to say that I have denied them all, and I do not feel as though I am missing out on anything.

Notifications are there to serve a purpose. If you give them a chance, they will ruin your life…do not give them that chance.

 

6.  Ads

Speaking (or at least writing) about things that people feel devalue their life, it’s time to talk about number six on our list…Ads.

Advertisements. Let’s take a look at mobile and web advertising from a few different perspectives:

First, there’s the site itself. It costs more money than the GDP of several small nations to operate a website or mobile app that manages millions (and sometimes billions) of data streams in a single day. We all like to think that we own Facebook, but the reality is if you’re not paying for it you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

We all have our favorite social media sites and apps, and if they went away tomorrow we’d be very sad. It’s my opinion that most of these sites (almost all of them) are working hard to keep the value of the experience high, while also trying to make a buck, simply so they can stay in business. I’m thankful they did not fully adopt the television model whereby completely interrupting my entertainment for the sake of keeping the lights on.

True, most social sites have ads that they put right in there with the rest of the content and it can sometimes be a little disappointing. Many blogs and news sources do this too, but nobody’s complaining about that. Also, it’s a fact that they use your own data against you. When you created that profile and gave them gobs of information about your personal interests, you were also empowering them to let advertisers target you so you could be manipulated into buying crap you actually might buy (imagine that).

In the grand scheme of things, ads are not all that bad on the social sphere. When they get worse (and they will), the end user has the luxury of skipping down the virtual street and joining another social network for their enjoyment.

Now, let’s look at it from the perspective of the ad buyer, brand or marketer. Ads, throughout history have been a sowing and not a reaping activity. If you want to measure the effectiveness of your social media advertising, measure exposure…measure quality of the targeting.

If you’re spending money on Social Media ads and you’re not directing traffic to a website that is designed to convert traffic to sales or leads, then it’s not your advertising and you shouldn’t talk about ROI like you know anything about it.

I’ll say it again; it’s a sowing activity! What does that mean? Ads, in and of themselves (all marketing, really), are designed to spread the word (read: plant seeds), not to harvest a crop. If you paid laborers to plant apple trees, but you let the ripe apples fall to the ground and die, you can’t blame the laborers who planted the trees for your bad harvest. If you’re going to advertise anywhere, get an education first.

Social media sites are an awesome place to advertise. Not only do I not mind the occasional ad showing up in my newsfeed, it’s usually targeted to my specific interest. Do I click on them? Hardly ever, but that’s also the beauty of it. Depending on how much you spend, you could target thousands of “me.” And if “I” click an ad once in 10,000 times, but you show the ad to 10,000 of “me”…well, then, that sounds like a pretty good opportunity for just about any business person.

Anywho, I don’t mean to go on about Ads other than to say, done right, they can be a very useful tool for getting the message of your products, services and brand out there. For social networking sites and apps they are a good source of revenue and for the members of the sites, they keep the home page free, the profile descriptive, the search engine running, the messages private and the notifications coming.

 

7. BONUS: Mastering the lost art of humanity

If your goal is to grow your audience on any given social media channel, the key missing ingredient in most strategies is intention. Your intention has to be community based. The elusive feature of all social media that most brands and marketing professionals miss is – the people! What you are growing is a community of freethinking individuals. What you are not growing are mindless consumers who lack any effective recourse should you fail to exceed their expectations.

Google the definition of the word “Social” and you’ll get to the heart of mastering social media, “of or relating to society or its organization.” If you can see the value in building a society of followers who genuinely care about what you are doing for them, then you’ll have a resource that will never let you down. But first, you must care.

As Vaynerchuk says in chapter 9 of his debut book Crush It, “The best marketing strategy ever is simple: care.”  I say, intend to care, and do it sincerely. When you do, you will master the seven keys of social media dominance.  Good luck, and let me know if you’re successful in mastering the six (er…seven) things to (nearly) master (almost) all social media.

 

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