Social Media Illusions
Jan 5, 2010
I had a conversation via Twitter the other day that started with the post pictured to the right. What Lindsey (a talented PR professional who unfortunately works for a school that’s not The University of Tennessee) is describing is a pretty common occurrence. You say something about a brand and either they or a competitor follow you—often within seconds. More often than not, the follow is an automated response, and anything you say after that isn’t really being heard. It’s “listening,” but not listening.
It’s actually not that hard to set up an automated search to find mentions of particular things in the Twitter stream… and not much harder to auto-follow the folks who type the words you’re tracking. But if you’re going to simply find and follow, you’re better off not being there at all.
Now let’s expand beyond Twitter since this is really just a medium-specific example of a Social Media Illusion. The term first struck me when listening to this Marketplace piece about the Donor Illusion. In the article, Tim Ogden of Philanthropy Action, a Web site for donors, explains the donor illusion as:
“The promise of a direct connection between a donor and an individual recipient.
“The big problem with donor illusion is of course that plenty of people don’t read the fine print. And when they find out the way things really work they feel lied to or misled and they react very negatively.”
It’s pretty easy to equate this to social mediums. When you show up on Twitter or Facebook — or even offer help-desk services on your own site — people expect interaction. If you don’t provide it, people will feel misled and lied to. And Twitter puts a megaphone in their hands, so when they react very negatively, you can be sure that reaction will be heard far and wide.
So brands thinking about engaging via social mediums have to avoid the Social Media Illusion at all costs. And only spending time actually listening and responding can help you do that.
Back to automation for a second. Used correctly, things like Twitter Search can help you listen. But that’s just moving you from randomly scanning a radio dial to hear your favorite song, to searching for it on the iTunes Music Store. You’re far more likely to find what you’re looking for. Taken a step further, if you’ve got satellite radio you know you can set it up to tell you every time that song is played, and which station you should dial up to hear it.
Apps like TweetDeck and sites like TweetGrid can have the same effect in the social media space. I use TweetDeck, and have active searches for CENTERLINE and several clients. I also have columns that let me see posts by specific groups of people, like other forward-minded folks around the Triangle region. (You can subscribe to that list if you like here). Going well beyond Twitter, there’s products like Radian6 that will help you listen and track conversations about your brand all over the web.
But all that is just “listening.” It isn’t until you become a part of those conversations — saying “thanks” to folks who compliment you, openly providing customer service to folks who’ve had a bad experience with your product, and in general being an active participant in the community around your brand — that you’re actually listening.
Watching TV as a kid, I used to run to the bathroom during the shows so I could make it back for the commercials. Those days launched me down a path that included layout and writing for the college paper; communications strategy for political campaigns; marketing strategy and graphic design for Gensler (a global design and architecture firm); and the implementation of new programming, animation and design techniques for Centerline. Today I specialize in content marketing strategy and building digital deliverables to execute those strategies. But it’s about more than just creating killer digital content. At Centerline, we help clients succeed in the digital marketplace using a three-pronged approach: strategic (message creation, brand strategy), tactical (design, development), and analytical (measurement and adaptation). This experience-tested approach allows me to build campaigns that are both well-designed and effective for clients like IBM, GE and National Instruments.