Some thoughts following some workshops I’ve delivered to people who run small businesses
It sounds counter-intuitive but the first thing I tend to start with is to reassure people that social media take-up is not compulsory. It is perfectly fine for individuals to say that social media is not for them, in exactly the same way that some social media platforms work for some but not others. Ditto changing preferences over time. I used to use Facebook lots, but now hardly ever use it as my needs, interests and friendship groups have changed over time. The big risk I have is that my social life is pretty much dependent on Twitter. As Puffles tweeted to Louise Mensch just before she unfollowed, if you silence Twitter you silence Puffles. (This was on a debate about the riots and whether social media platforms should be shut down by the police in cases of serious civil disorder – with me arguing that the damage to the UK economy by such a move would be far far greater).
Talking of dependency, that was one question I was asked: How do you stop yourself from becoming addicted – because clearly I am. Even before I started doing talks, seminars and workshops I was tweeting faster than a rate of knots. In non-social-media businesses, people simply do not have the time to be connected all the time. It is all too easy to get distracted – as I found myself during my final days in the civil service. OK, by the time I launched Puffles my workload was slowing down significantly in the programme closure process, but if I was in a white-hot policy team, following a Twitter feed would have significantly impacted my ability to do the day job. Hence the need to manage your time – and the expectations of those you interact with.
“Social media – well…it’s for kids, ain’t it?”
Doesn’t mean it can’t be for anyone else. For example the Information Commissioner’s guidance to young people on staying safe online. I point people to this on the grounds that you know it is definitely aimed at learners and has been put together in a manner that is easy to use. Why don’t they do this with adults guidance too?
Finding the people who accept and understand the seismic cultural shift
This means being able to separate those who view social media as a gadget that, if used correctly will deliver a return of Y on an investment of X in Z months/years time, with those who view social media as being similar in impact to the invention of the printing press or the telephone. If we imagine a business in printing press times, but sort of ‘speed up history’, we can think of one hypothetical impact, opportunity and challenge that stems from it. Impact? An increasingly literate society. (Remember that history has been sped up in this hypothetical case). An opportunity? To print literature advertising your wares. A challenge? Your competitors might be thinking the same thing around opportunities as you – and may be one step ahead.
With social media, we can look at it in the same way. Impact? People are able to respond directly and publicly to businesses. Opportunity? You can incorporate that feedback into your firm’s decision-making processes to improve what it does to meet customer demand. The challenge? If you get things badly wrong, criticism can go viral and stuff like this can happen.
Opportunity? To make more money?
Not quite. From the people that I’ve engaged with, the people who are focussed on the bottom line are looking primarily at the short term – with a particular interest in the metrics. Hence the X-Y-Z line above. The people that appear to be interested in social media for what it is seem to be the people who can see far beyond the money and far beyond the short term. Yes, they see the financial opportunities that go with it, but are not so focused on the money side of things so as to be blind to everything else.
If you try to use social media through that financial prism, you may be far less likely to stumble across the really useful people and things – and far more likely to stumble across the spammers and direct marketeers. Engaging with people who have similar outside interests can often bring in new things into your timeline – and life – that you were previously unaware of. Interacting with people who have genuine shared interests are more likely to bring these up – especially in a highly interactive medium such as Twitter. This is because you get to find out via the feeds the things others are interested in that you may not have been aware of.
Why do you do what you do?
This was one question I was asked this week. “Because it’s fun” was my response. I concede that my economic circumstances are not nearly as tough as for others – I live with my parents so don’t have to worry about extortionate rents and high utility bills. Quite a different state compared to when I was living in London, where such costs were continually at the forefront of my mind. (It’s that experience – plus with university – that makes be very interested in all things housing policy).
In terms of why I find social media to be fun, well…I get to hang around with a dragon fairy all day! Not only that, said dragon fairy enables me to meet lots of lovely people with similar interests, and go to great places. It’s a wonderful ‘filter’ that allows me to filter in all of the people and things in life that I have a common interest with, and filter out those that do not. From both a business perspective and a ‘life’ perspective, wouldn’t it be great to do the same thing?
The point I am trying to make is that those interested in social media have motivations that go beyond the bottom line. You could say the clue is within the term ‘social media’ – it’s social. Being 100% focused on money isn’t exactly social – especially if you end up viewing every connection, friendship or relationship that you have with anyone through a financial or monetary prism.
Finding the right tool or platform
Having got people interested, the next challenge is finding a platform that suits them. This in itself isn’t easy, and it actually requires investing time in people to find out which tool is likely to match their personality & temperament and lifestyle. It’s not simply a case of signing them up to every platform under the sun. Pick a couple and use them well.
It also reminds me of the post How we are using social media is changing, by Louise Kidney. In one sense it reflects a shift away from Facebook, which is an all singing all dancing platform, to people using different platforms for different things. I could, for example use Facebook for posting updates and re-posts from other people, only that Twitter is a more suitable platform. In the business world, LinkedIn advocates might say that it is more suitable for running a group than Facebook is. Instagram might be better for photographs, and EventBrite more suitable for organising events. Et cetera.
The importance of planning
It’s not simply a case of racing off to sign up to every platform under the sun. In both the sessions I ran recently, we spent much of the time planning around content so as to make the proposed social media activities sustainable in the long term. What content do you want to put out? Are you prepared to receive comments and criticism? How are you going to incorporate those comments and criticisms into a feedback loop and decision-making processes? Who are the people and organisations that you want to engage with and learn from? Who are your potential friends and allies in the social media world? Who are your potential adversaries? How much time do you want to spend on social media, and when during the day, week, month and year? How will you manage the expectations of your followers? How do you avoid becoming a spammer? What if thongs don’t go the way you want them to go? All of those things need to be looked at before you even start with the tools themselves.
Food for thought.