I want to share a secret with you – many years, and about 65 pounds ago, I had been a devotee of something with a much greater pull than even social media and its allure.
That’s right, I had been a quasi-athlete (not a great one, but just one), well I was a rugby player – define that as you will. As part of being an athlete, I really got into powerlifting, it was a better way to get into shape – not as monotonous as running or cycling. (I wasn’t great at powerlifting either, just ask my workout partners 😉 )
I had flirted with the idea of being a strength coach, because I enjoyed working out and studying exercise physiology, but as my instructor used to say, he couldn’t advise that we complete four years of college in order to earn $25,000 a year as a strength coach. So I ended up in PR, where a four-year degree earned me just a little more per year. 😉
And recently, while two torn up knees and a bum ankle are keeping me off of the rugby pitch, I’ve been getting back into powerlifting more and more. So as I’ve jumped back into powerlifting I’ve noticed a lot of parallels between this sport and social media. I quickly grabbed the laptop and started jotting down as many notes as I could keep trapped in my mind. I’ve included a list of this baker’s dozen below.
- Practice, practice, practice!
- It’s not only how you get to Carnegie Hall, or hit that new record bench press, it’s how you hone your social media chops – and learn what works for you (whether it’s video, audio, blogging, etc.)
- Form is important.
- As everyone who hits the weights knows, you have to perform each exercise correctly. If you don’t learn how to do each exercise correctly then you run the risk of injuring yourself later.
- In social media, you have to look at this as focusing on the narrative you want to tell, the stories about your organization that are important.
- You won’t hit every lift, it’s OK.
- Whether you are working out or at a powerlifting meet, you’re not going to perform every lift perfectly, sometimes you will fail to get the weight back up – it was called “bottoming out” when I lifted – and that’s OK.
- In social media, every post isn’t going to be perfect, or totally make sense to your target audience, or tell the story you want it to tell. No worries, you’ll get it next time. And maybe you can learn something from what you might consider a “failing post” that you can use in a few weeks.
- Build your posts to an “event”
- In strength training, there’s a philosophy called “periodization” – where you prepare a workout schedule that fluctuates from light workouts to hard workouts and back to medium – which turns into the new “light workout.” As you progress along this program, you will gain more strength, step by step. Usually you plan your workouts back from a scheduled event (the start of a sports season or a powerlifting meet).
- Why not do the same thing for social media? Plan on having a meetup/tweetup, or another social event or giveaway several months down the line and start creating a schedule of posts, videos, etc that you want to use to build up to this event.
- Start easy at first – don’t overstress yourself.
- Until you feel comfortable with your “social media workout,” don’t push yourself to do too much – too quickly. In powerlifting and social media it can lead to burnout and abandonment of your new plan. Remember, follow your schedule, and don’t frontload it with too much work until you are prepared for it.
- Mix up your “workout”
- Doing the same kind of workout, or creating the same kind of content, over and over starts to get stale.
- In strength training, this leads to boredom and your workout gains start to stall.
- In social media, this can lead to boring posts, losing readership, and eventually you might give up on creating new content.
- Just mix things up, don’t always do the same kinds of posts, or create the same content in your social media plan – some days do a podcast, or a quick video, or take a little time off (see below)
- More is not always better
- In strength training, as in social media, your first inclination might be to jump in with both feet and overdo everything.
- If you need to take a little time off, do it. While social media, and powerlifting, are very cool and a lot of fun, it can start to wear on you. But don’t take too much time off, or you might not return again – it’s the difference between a quick break and quitting for good. In strength training it means you’re going to get out of shape again, in social media it means giving up on your content, when you might be on the cusp of a breakthrough piece.
- If you’re at a company, see if you can find a couple of people to stand in for you for a while to continue building your audience.
- Don’t neglect your “core training”
- In strength training, you have to develop your foundation, your core muscles (the abdominals, lower back, upper back, shoulder girdle and legs) in order to get stronger.
- In business and social media communications training, you have to look at your organization’s core competencies and ask “what are our communications goals?”
- How are you going to achieve those goals? How will your narratives, the stories you share about your organization, help you reach your goals?
- Speaking of goals, set realistic goals.
- If you’re starting out in powerlifting, you’re probably not going to hit a 400 pound bench press overnight, or for quite a while. But you can add 20-30 pounds in a few months.
- If you’re creating social media content, blogging and videocasting, you’re not going to reach Bob Lutz, Geoff Livingston and Chris Brogan reader numbers overnight – and that’s OK. Keep your measurements realistic, if you impact a handful of people that’s still wonderful, in fact they might even get back to you and let you know about that impact.
- Everyone is unique – in strength training and content creation.
- Not everyone will feel comfortable sitting in front of a video camera, or audio podcasting. They might be better at connecting with people via social networking tools (which are different from social media).
- Go with what works for you – and include this in your social media “periodization plan”
- Have the right equipment for your needs.
- And know how to use it. In strength training, doing deadlifts wearing sandals might leave you injured – trust me I know.
- In social media, you need to have the proper equipment – it doesn’t have to be too expensive, but instead of getting a flip camera (which seems to be the rage among communicators) look at something that allows you to get decent audio (a much overlooked piece of the YouTube puzzle) as well as audio.
- Use this equipment in your practice sessions, knowing how to use your equipment ahead of time makes your life much easier, whether it’s in powerlifting or social media.
- Get a trainer
- When you start working out, it pays to invest a little bit of money in working with a personal trainer. They help start you down the path to a healthier life, or a stronger body. They give you the tools to move on, only needing to check in with them periodically when you need something new to add to your workout.
- It’s the same thing in social media. If you are new to this, you can start off by reading a few books and trying to get some “book learnin’” and try to piece this together. This isn’t a bad idea, but you can avoid some of the “bad form” you might learn from reading various tomes if you hire a social media communicator to help train you, to show you what might or might not work for you and then let you loose on the InterWebs to see how this works. Then you can bring them back from time to time to teach you something new or change your routine a little bit.
- Finally, and more importantly, at the end of the day you have to do this yourself.
- No one can work out for you. You can’t have someone from outside your body lift the weights for you. You have to sit down at the bench and start pressing the weights on your own.
- When you are creating content for your social media outlet, you can hire someone to come into your company and write for you, or you can have an employee do it on behalf of the company, but leaving this in the hands of an agency instead of learning how to do it yourself can be dangerous – because it leaves your communications goals vulnerable to an outside organization that only has your best interests at heart as long as the checks don’t bounce.
- You need to take the lessons learned from all of the above points, and what your social media trainer has taught you and either do it yourself or bring someone in to your organization who can “lift the weight” for your organization.
This post started off as a Twitter conversation between me and my friend Ashley Gephart, the day that Apple announced their new iPhone 4. I had sent out a tweet asking what the impact of the iPhone would be on products like the Flip camera for PR types and non-profit communicators and she responded that most non-profits wouldn’t pay for something like this, and that a lot of non-profits still don’t get social media. While true, I think we were talking past each other, I was looking at how it would impact the Flip camera, while she was looking at the impact from non-profits, although I think more non-profits will get behind this when they hear about the benefits. (so point all of your non-profit peeps here for info and consulting 😉 )
The Flip camera has been the darling of many a PR person creating content for social media (especially if you read Ragan.com), and it’s a nice little basic video camera (which has, IMHO, been replaced by the Kodak Zi8 for better audio and the Sony Bloggie CM5’s superior optical zoom).
But with the introduction of the newest iPhone, Steve Jobs announced that the camera will be able to record 720p high definition video, in addition to taking pictures with the 5MP lens on the camera that you can upload to your company’s Web site, or Flickr account. In addition to this, the iPhone’s app store will finally carry an iPhone friendly version of iMovie – Apple’s grandma-ware version of video editing software.
As ever in social media, there is an ongoing argument – this one about the importance, or non-importance, of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in your social media efforts. Those on the “pro” side stating that without SEO you will never receive traffic to your Web site, and those on the “con” side countering that SEO does not allow you to be truly engaging in your communications and that it’s just “gaming Google” and selling products like ScribeSEO. I tend to look for a middle ground. SEO can play a part in your social media planning, but without additional communications streams, be it blog posts or other engaging modes, SEO is worthless. Gearing every post with special SEO rules and ignoring the fact that your readers are mostly regular people who are checking your site out. And SEO does help when you are working in tags, such as YouTube, or even tagging blog posts.
My take on this is simple, yet as complex as you wish to make it.
SEO gives your reader a glimpse through the window of your house.
Reader engagement (including social networking engagement) invitingly opens the door for them,
Compelling and storytelling content keeps them returning for more.
All need to be in balance, all need to be approached in different ways – depending on your needs. Providing your social media communications a level of harmony that people find irresistible.
Some of the online discussion has recently asked who is the best to represent your organization in social media. Your PR or marketing agency? Or your in-house experts and communicators?
I’m going to go with your in house people. Having your social media team (which needs to be made up of people in your company from many disciplines – marketing, PR, sales, operations, development, programming, etc) spearheaded by your own employees allows your company to tap into a much deeper knowledge of the products, services, issues, etc. Much more in depth than your PR firm working 40 hours a month on your account.
This isn’t to denigrate the work that firms do for a client – it actually promotes a firewall separating the strengths of a firm and the company in question. The primary social media content and creation needs should come from your company’s evangelists while your firm can bring the team important insights about your company or a new idea for social media tools (for example). Sometimes that outside viewpoint can give your firm the great ideas to move your organization into a new communications phase.
When you start a communications team/Firm partnership, you need to establish the ground rules for what each side of the equation will do. Be careful to not let the line blur too much, each team will work to their strengths, and the people on each team can hold the other team accountable to working to those strengths.
This isn’t a post designed to slavishly worship at the altar of Foursquare – the app that allows you to broadcast your location to everyone following you on Twitter, Facebook, and… oh yeah, your Foursquare account. And the jokes about telling people when they can break into your empty home have already been made, so I won’t make them here.
(And I’m sure this post has been written many times before by other smarter people than I, but bear with me, please. )
In fact, and this may surprise you (and to bastardize Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar), “I have come here today to praise Foursquare, not to bury it.” Foursquare could be one of the great saviors for many small businesses that always appear to be under threat.
By keeping an eye on who checks in at a business via Foursquare, savvy businesses are already able to offer special discounts, or menu items (in the case of a restaurant), etc. to people following their business. But what about those people who are walking by a business? Since most of these smartphones are (or will be) equipped with GPS (how else can you run Google Maps and Directions?) it should only be a short jump until these phones can signal that they are in the proximity of your business. Then you do the same thing, offer discounts, freebies, etc to swing by.
How will the person behind the counter know if the discount is legit? You might be able to send a picture of a QR Code or Bar Code for the specific item in question, in order to try and minimize people gaming the systems with bogus tweets/etc. At the end of the day though, let them work the system a little bit, the end result will still be sales.
The most important aspect to this will be creating a system where people can opt-in, instead of pushing your message to any phone capable of receiving a text message. Because at that point your message becomes nothing more than spam and will drive people away.
Monitoring Foursquare for check-ins, and Twitter for tweets, and responding appropriately will help you to attract more customers, and to handle customer service issues. Look no further than ComcastBonnie (@comcastbonnie on Twitter) for an example of those tech savvy peeps doing it right.
Why is a personal brand important for a company in social media? Because consumers don’t want to interact with a “company” or “brand” they want to interact with the people behind a brand. That’s why people won’t follow “Dell” because it’s a company, but they will follow Richard at Dell or Lionel at Dell because they give that company the personal interaction with their consumers. As a result of that, people will want to become connected with your company or organization, look at the iCabal, the Apple fanatics who are incredibly tied in with the Mac brand, because they have probably been influenced by the Mac Evangelist crowd (and/or they are easily led by shiny things. 🙂 )
(Just kidding, relax y’all.)
Companies can’t interact with people. The people in your company can.
You have to make sure that the right people in your company are interacting with those people. That’s one of the strengths of PR people working on your social media team, PR people are great at connecting with people – it’s our job, heck it’s in the job title “Public Relations.” Who in your organization can you trust with the social interactions with your customers?
What are some of the ways people in your organization can get involved in social media? Here are a few of my ideas, what would you like to see your organization do to open up and engage more online?
- Set guidelines, not restrictions – you want to have guidelines that people blogging/tweeting/etc for your company need to follow (think of them as talking points for your evangelists, why do they rock?) But you don’t want to restrict what they can say too much.
- You don’t need to vet everything that’s said – your employees, check that, the employees who love your company (and these are the ones who should be representing you) should not have to run everything by the legal department. You trust your customer service team in India to represent your company without running every statement through the mothership, you should trust your social media employees to do the same.
- Who in your company is already blogging? – Who’s already doing it? Can you pay them to be part of the social media team at your company? Why reinvent the wheel? Take these people on a long weekend retreat to Vegas, or the fun destination of your choice and intersperse some workshops on developing your social media team in between visits to the casino/park/hiking trail/etc.
- Are there any free agents out there? –Is there anyone in your organization, or someone that one of your employees might know, who is already active in social media and social networking? If so, you might want to consider offering them a job to produce your content. They have an audience already established, and you might be able to attract some of them to your new brand. And at the same time, if you are working on your own personal brand, you can learn quite a bit from your new free agent star.
- Who should represent the company? – Your new free agent? How about the guys you have on the team already? What about the CEO? Is he/she tech savvy and interested in this communications medium? If not, it would be better for them to give up the reins here and let the people in the know take the lead, then report successes and concerns to the CEO.
- Experiment, experiment, experiment! There are a lot of kinds of social media out there, what works the best not only for your company, but for your team? Remember, there are some pieces of social media that work best as entrees, and others as appetizers. Maybe your video person loves working on video but has a voice that would only be improved by gargling with rusty razor blades. Then he shouldn’t lead the podcasting. Your podcast guru has that smooth radio voice but can’t hold a camera steady long enough for a picture, then you don’t need them leading up your Flickr stream. Different people have different strengths, what tools are out there to augment them and how can you combine them?
- Training – Cross train your team, turn them into backpack journalists – able to develop news across all kinds of new media.
What other advice would you add for leaders interested in getting their people involved with their customers, competition, and colleagues?
If you are interested in social media, and learning how to get started or engage more in this burgeoning online media-sphere, then you have probably run across quite a few stories/blogpieces/ads pimping how “You Can Get 10,000 Twitter Followers in 30 Days!” or “You Too Can Become a Facebook Gawd!!1!!” and other such nonsense. To me these are nothing more than just the latest “How To Get Bigger Boobs Through Social Media”-esque BS lures to remove you from your money or time (both of which are important).
A lot of these try to latch onto our need to be recognized, to be acknowledged quickly for our brilliance – and claim to provide a quick, “gimme gimme gimme now” fix to achieving this. Like most things in life and business, working in social media is going to require a lot of patience, time, strategic planning and hard work.
One of the big ideas these “plans” leave out – especially important if you are a business owner or corporate type – is the need for some kind of merging of your strategy between social media and communications. Social media are great tools for building additional communications and increasing your community outreach/developing a community relations platform, but they will never really replace your communications/pr strategy. They can help augment it, but your social media outlets are really one more avenue to communicate with people, and need their own strategy to . But you need to have a firm strategy in place before you really jump in and drown in all the noise out there.
(as an aside, there will be a Holiday present for those people interested in social media and strategy coming up before Dec. 25.)
At the end of the day you’re not going to land 10,000 followers in a month, nor are you going to achieve deitific bliss on Facebook or – Buddha forgive – MySpace. As with most things in life, you need to work at it and show patience. Engage with your target audiences, look at the strategy you have developed – what do you want to say to them? What goals are you hoping to achieve? Why are you writing or recording?
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