I’m not an expert on social media. You won’t find me on a top 10 list of bloggers,Twitterers, podcasters, or Facebookers.I haven’t been using social media since Day One (whenever that was), but I do know what I like. I know what has worked for me and I’ve noticed a few things that have worked—and not worked—for myself and others. Don’t worry, this isn’t a You’re doing it wrong! rant. You can use social media however you want, and I won’t get mad. Instead, this is a collection of bad social media advice. In other words, don’t follow these steps if you want to make an impact through social media.
Step One: Write a subpar article on social media. If you write a subpar article on social media, everyone will stop following you on any and all social media channels and you’ll be made a mockery on the World Wide Web. (Gulp.) No pressure. Let’s move on…
Step Two: Try to be something you’re not. On the Web, you can look as big or small, amateur or professional, slick or grungy as you want. For example, Google has about 20,000 employees worldwide, yet their homepage consists of a basic graphic, two dozens text links, and a sea of white space. On the other hand, I could create a startup company with only me as an employee. I could make a website for my company that makes me look bigger than Google. Of course, it’s probably pointless to attract people who are expecting something I can’t deliver.
Instead, figure out who you are. Figure out what you can build and what you can sustain. Do that. Deliver that. Regardless of the channel or medium, trying to be someone else tends to lead to failure. The truth is that I can’t deliver bigger than Google. People who are lured by my look will get burned by my execution (or a lack thereof), and they’ll use social media to make sure all their friends know about it (#ScottFAIL!).
Step Three: Try to grab an audience before you add value or content. Check me out! Blog posts coming soon! Tweets coming soon! Create a big push to bring people to your digital doorstep … and then politely ask them to come back later because you’re not ready yet. Or perhaps we’ve got the progression backward. Perhaps the Grand Opening is overrated.
Instead, build up a base of content before you launch (whatever it is you’re launching). Then when you invite people to check you out, they can get a good sampling of what you’re all about. (When I say “launch” I mean the act of announcing your presence to the world.) Often, people set up a Twitter account for their organization, and then immediately follow several hundred other Twitter users. When the newly followed Twitter users visit the organization’s profile, they don’t find any helpful information—the profile image hasn’t been uploaded yet, no URL has been provided, the short bio is blank or vague, and few (if any) tweets have been posted. Why would someone want to follow a Twitter user based on an underdeveloped profile like that? This applies to social networks, blogs, websites, video-sharing sites, and all the other channels out there. Give first-time visitors to your social media platform a reason to friend you, follow you, or subscribe to your updates. Some people are willing to give you one shot at their continued attention … don’t waste it.
Step Four: Only talk about yourself. Hey, it’s your platform! Use it to talk about you! Ignore what’s going on in the world, in your city, or in your niche. Make sure that everything you write, tweet, blog, edit, design, and render is about you, your organization, your needs, your successes, your news, and your events. Or perhaps being completely self-centered isn’t the way to go.
Instead, talk about the exciting things other people are doing, trying, creating, writing, and sharing. Doing so gives you the opportunity to make a lot of friends and establish yourself as someone with good taste and someone who is a good source of interesting news, recommendations, and tidbits. No one likes the person at the office, in the family, or at the party who only talks about themselves, their pet peeves, their interests, and their kids, right? So why would that approach work online? It doesn’t. Talk about others.
Step Five: Be erratic. Only engage in social media when you feel like it and when you have time. Tweet whenever, comment whenever, update whenever. Keep people guessing about where you are, what you’re doing, and what’s on your mind. Keep people in the dark about what’s going on at your organization. Some are bound to hang with you despite your best efforts to alienate them. It’s just that alienation isn’t typically part of a successful strategy.
Instead, find your rhythm, commit to it, and stick with it. Set your expectations and your audience’s expectations, then meet them. People love the fact that the newspaper arrives every morning. People love that Monday Night Football comes on every Monday night during the season. People hate when you post/blog/tweet/podcast erratically—four in a week, then none for a month, then one a week, then every other week. It makes them dizzy.
Step Six: Spam. If the world isn’t paying attention to you, get in their face and make them pay attention. Send a mountain of email and Facebook messages (they’re free, after all) to all those poor saps who allowed you to get a hold of their information. By hook or by crook, they’re going to listen to what you’re saying and support your organization. Who cares if they hate you for it?
Instead, realize that a lot of people don’t like these kinds of aggressive intrusions. They’ll get annoyed. They’ll publicly ridicule you. They’ll lump you in with the Russian pill spammers that bombard their inbox. Remember that permission marketing is ridiculously powerful—so much more powerful than a Stop what you’re doing and look at me! approach. Focus on the people who are willing and able to listen. The others will come around eventually.
Step Seven: Info Barf. The first time you meet someone isn’t necessarily the best time to tell someone your entire life story, but don’t let that stop you! Forego the introductions and small talk, skip ahead to your childhood memories, your high school traumas, and your college mischief. Hopefully, your new friend won’t make up an excuse to ditch you immediately. But they probably will.
Instead, embrace the idea of a tagline, a powerful symbol, an elevator pitch, or a 140-character summary. If you can do one of those things in an informative, interesting, or intriguing way, some people—the right people—will want to know more about you and your organization. They’ll start to follow your story. When it comes to social media, it’s helpful to think in terms of chapters, episodes, or installments instead of volumes and unabridged anthologies. Give people a piece a time so they can digest it. They’ll come back when they’re ready for another piece. (Thanks to Justin Wise from www.bedeviant.com for introducing me to this concept.)
Step Eight: Have no idea who you’re dealing with. Use social media to discuss salvation, sanctification, fellowship, LIFEgroups, accountability, and expository preaching to people who have no idea what those terms mean. Use social media to present the gospel to a bunch of Christians. Use social media to wrestle with church politics in front of a bunch of people who don’t know anything about church. That should work really well. Or it will be a communication failure of epic proportions.
Instead, ask your audience who they are and where they’re at. Then, listen. Then, act accordingly. If they’re not where you’d like them to be, resolve to lead them there, and devise a plan to reach that end. Tailor your social media communication and interaction to suit your audience’s context.
Google recently released a video in which they sent a staffer to Times Square to ask passersby to explain what a browser is. Few could do it accurately, let alone succinctly. Google, who recently developed its own browser, should understand their audience a little better now. They should have some good ideas about how to market Chrome—a browser—to a Communication population that has no idea what a browser actually is.
Step Nine: Have a poor picture of success. As many followers as Andy Stanley? As many podcast subscribers as Joel Osteen? As many blog readers as Carlos Whittaker? When you foray into social media, you should set your sights high. Really high. Don’t be satisfied with 100 friends or followers because you deserve so much better. Except that 93.6 percent of Twitter users have less than 100 followers, so odds are that’s where you’ll be (at least for a little while).
Instead, remember that people are inundated with media choices, and not everyone will choose you. Don’t have your heart set on an audience size; have your heart set on depth of connection and impact. If you still have your heart set on millions of hits, I’d ask you this: Why are you trying to be “mega” instead of trying to be effective? Setting your bar too high is effectively setting yourself up for failure. The top Technorati blogs are multi-author operations owned by media conglomerates—that ain’t you and you’re not going to beat them.
As Tears for Fears said, “Everybody wants to rule the world.” For the church leader, ruling the world is an undeniably poor picture of success. When told he was the worst pirate Commodore Norrington had ever heard of, Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow counters, “Ah, but you have heard of me.” His picture of success isn’t to be good at what he does, it’s to be famous (or infamous) for fame’s sake. Again, this is a poor picture of success. Think about all those desperate people who try out for American Idol. They don’t want to be singers; they want to be famous. Don’t let that be you. Use social media because you have something to say, not because you want to be heard.
Step Ten: Give up. It’s not working. The crowds haven’t gathered to sit at your feet and consume whatever it is you’re cranking out, so quit. Give up. Add your accounts to the legions of abandoned blogs and Twitter profiles. Nielsen says 60 percent of Twitter users do not return from one month to the next—it’s free to signup and free to give up. In fact, 1post1der.blogspot.com is an online showcase for blogs that only published one post before being abandoned by their blogger-masters. That could be you, too!
Instead, remember that all of this takes time. It takes time to find your voice and find your audience. It takes time to find what works for you. The technological world moves so quickly that we tend to grow impatient with everything. Consider the tagline on John Dyer’s website, www.donteatthefruit.com: “Technology is fast but redemption is slow.” Guess what? So is organic growth. Set out with a plan in mind and work your plan. Commit to give it six months or a year before you throw in the towel. Along the way, tweak, adjust, and evaluate, but keep plugging away.
Step Eleven: Forget to tell a story. Push information. Push updates. Push statistics. Push calls to action. Push invitations to events. Push rants. Push needs. Social media enables you to do all these things easily and cheaply, so do it to your heart’s content. The only problem is that unless all of those things are part of the overarching narrative you’re communicating, few are likely to respond with your barrage of pushes.
Instead, remember that social media—video, audio, images, text, tweets, trackbacks, comments, forums, tags, friends, followers, fans, favorites—is a fantastic avenue for telling a story. Social media gives us the power to create and share miniature documentaries. Via social media, your audience can “meet” people they never would’ve met otherwise and hear their stories of redemption and life-change. They can hear how your ministry is making a difference one story at a time. Or you can keep pelting them with links to your “Donate Online” page.
Story is the language of the human heart. Facts inform, stories invite. Donald Miller says that stories—character, objective, conflict, resolution—are the way God changes us. That’s a big deal, right? And if our churches and ministries are producing stories of life change, don’t we bear some responsibility to share those stories? I think so, and social media is a wonderful tool to help us in that effort. Tell people who you are, where you’re going, why you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and how they can be a part of it. The more you do this, the better. Directly and indirectly, you invite people into the narrative of your ministry, which is, in a larger sense, part of the story of God. That’s worth tweeting about.
Scott McClellan is the Editor of COLLIDE.