Keep it Social

social-article Human communication is complex. The words that you use, the tone and volume of your voice as well as your body language and facial expressions all play a role in how your message is received by those that you are communicating with. A poorly chosen phrase or a simple misstep in your body language can steer a conversation into unexpected, and unintended, territory. In an age when so much of our communication has now become digital, the challenges have become even greater. Many of the social cues present in face-to-face interactions are all but impossible to convey. Body language and facial expressions are a non‐factor, and tone is as hard to express as it is easy to misinterpret. As a result, when communicating online, achieving clear understanding of meaning and intention comes down to the words that you use and how you use them.

Social communication

In today’s Digital Age, social media plays a pivotal role in the way companies communicate with their customers. But with the proliferation of social platforms – from standard bearers like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ to niche sites like Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr and Foursquare – it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the task of managing your brand’s social presence. As a result, it’s tempting to find ways to automate this communication in order to save time and resources. This is exactly the solution that I discussed recently with a vendor who was promoting a platform that would automatically broadcast updates to dozens of social media sites each time a blog post, news release or similar content was published to our website. Rather than spending the time to post this content to each of our social profiles individually, this tool would do it all for us in one quick shot. While this may sound like a dream come true, the problem is that it is a blunt instrument-style approach to communication: every profile gets exactly the same update at the same time. But the reality is that not all social media sites are the same, and neither are the audiences that use them. The way you communicate with connections on LinkedIn should differ from how you do so on Facebook. Similarly, the content you’d publish on photo-sharing sites like Instagram, Pinterest or Flickr is completely different from the updates you’d post to a micro‐blogging site like Twitter. Each site has a syntax specific to that particular social media platform, and ignoring that syntax greatly compromises the effectiveness your communication. You absolutely have something to lose – the opportunity to connect with your audience in a meaningful way. Some might argue that since the posts are automated, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying this approach, but that is incorrect. You absolutely have something to lose – the opportunity to connect with your audience in a meaningful way. And that lost opportunity could cost you dearly if the tailored messages of your competitors reach your potential customers where your robotic, automated communications miss the mark or, even worse, alienate your followers. In the end, while automation will save you time, it does so by taking away your ability to customize your message for specific audiences and platforms.

Be social, be specific

Stepping back from social media for a moment, think about human communication in general. We change the way that we speak and the messages that we send depending on who our audience is. You speak to your friends differently than you speak to your family. You communicate with co‐workers and peers differently than with clients and customers. Effective interpersonal communication requires an understanding of how best to convey your desired message to those you are speaking with. This is not something you could ever automate; it requires a human touch. When it comes to communicating via social media, the medium and the methods may be different, but the basic underlying principal remains the same: to be effective, your message must be tailored to the audience that will receive it. Although the channels themselves may be digital, you can’t eliminate the human element. For an example of how different messages should be tailored to different platforms – and why not every update is right for every social media profile you manage – let’s take a look at how my company shares our news and announcements. When we acquire a new certification or receive recognition that’s worthy of a press release, we promote that accomplishment on sites like Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook where followers naturally expect to see updates about what’s going on with our company. In each case, we use the specific syntax and conventions of that site – such as hashtags on Twitter – to make sure those updates are in a format that audiences are familiar with and can easily find. We do not, however, share content like this on sites like Flickr or dribbble because those platforms are visual in nature, and these particular announcements have no meaningful visual component to them. If instead we are publishing an update about a new website project that we are launching for a client, we will again post that announcement to Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook, but we will also add updates to social media sites that are more visual in nature because, for this update, we do have good image-based content (i.e., a screenshot of the new design) that can accompany the post. Each time we post an update to social media, we consider the nature of the content to decide which sites are most appropriate for those updates. Additionally, each social media post that we make uses the specific syntax of that social media platform.

Forget trying to do it all; focus on doing it right

The concept of automating your social media communication is only an attractive option if you are trying to publish content to so many social media sites that doing so has become unmanageable drain on your time. If this is the case, the solution isn’t to find a way to automate the work; it’s to streamline your activities to include only those sites that are a good fit for your needs. Trying to use every single social media site available to post as much content as possible is not a sound strategy. Why? Because social media platforms are overrun with self-promotional content that is irrelevant to audiences, and users of these platforms are quickly becoming conditioned to tune out this static. Sending automated updates to dozens of sites at once, without ever considering whether or not those updates are appropriate for those sites, just adds to this problem. Is that how you want your company’s news and announcements to be perceived – as part of the useless glut of social media updates? So if taking the time to individually update dozens of social media profiles for your company is not the answer, and automating those updates is also a no‐go, then how can you use social media to effectively communicate your organization’s message? The first step is to speak with a professional team that can help you establish an appropriate social media strategy – one that suits your brand and fits into your overall marketing plan. That team can help you identify which social media sites your audience is actually using and what types of updates you should send to each platform. They can also help you develop a rhythm for social media updates – one that you will be comfortable executing on a regular basis. By identifying the right sites for your organization and understanding how to use those sites effectively, you can capitalize on the power of social media to grow your brand and your business.

Case in point: KLR

KLR is a large accounting and business consulting firm headquartered in New England. In developing their social media strategy, they realized that while their target audience does likely use Facebook (after all, who doesn’t at this point?), they do not use that platform to search for the types of high‐end accounting and business planning services that the firm offers. As a result, promoting their services to that audience on that platform would be inappropriate, and their content would fall on deaf ears. Instead, KLR uses sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, where they have built a network of business connections that recognize them as thought leaders in their industry, to promote their services. Does this mean they turned away from Facebook altogether? Not at all; rather, they determined a more effective use for the platform: communicating with current and prospective employees, including interns whom they were looking to attract to the firm. Recognizing that college-age students would absolutely be using Facebook to research potential employers and positions, KLR decided to use their Facebook profile to showcase their company culture and their standing as a “Best Place to Work” for eight years running. By evaluating different social media sites, which segments of their audience (if any) are using those sites, and how they can most effectively convey their messages across that landscape, KLR has made the most out of the time they spend managing their social media presence.

A final word

Social media can be invaluable in its role as an open line of communication between your company and its customers. However, it can also be one of the surest ways to waste time and resources if you don’t have the right strategy in place. Make sure you’re getting the most from your efforts by contacting a digital marketing specialist to discuss your company’s needs. Together, you’ll be able to define your company’s voice and bring a human touch to your social media strategy.