With many social media marketers striving to acquire vast numbers of followers and likers, it seems the objective is to focus solely on scale. The more eyeballs they can get in front of with their message, the more conversions they can get, even if the conversion rate is infinitesimally small.
Doesn't this sound like direct mail? Where exactly is direct mail on the scale between dying and dead? Furthermore, isn't that what we're trying to get away from?
In a recent blog post, Julien Smith points out (and I'm paraphrasing here) that a person who has a thousand friends on Facebook, really has a thousand acquaintances because he or she is not truly investing anything in the relationship. To assist in the upkeep of friends on this scale, Facebook reminds you when your friends' birthdays are and there's even an app to automate the sending of a birthday greeting. In the end, however, "that's why sending a birthday note on Facebook is not a measure of closeness." It actually becomes kind of a sterile courtesy, when compared to a personal message or email.
An inflation of followers and likers also creates an environment whereby the communication is one-way. And if you are locked into an organizational structure wherein all communication must funnel through a single communications department, it's unmanageable. Again, this reduces many social media efforts to the old, tired mass communications platform that is top-down, one-way, and supposed to be on its way to obsolete.
What you do about all this is still evolving. One solution is to break the funnel and open the communication function up to more people within the organization. Heaven forbid! How will we control and manage our message? You can't. I have no words of comfort on that. I think tightly controlled messages are about to become the exclusive domain of very large corporations and organizations that don't rely on large numbers of consumers. And even that's debatable.
But I'm also wondering about the wisdom of the more-is-better strategy of acquiring followers and likers. Perhaps the more effective long view is to allow this number to grow more organically as a result of doing good work and communicating about that. It may sound old-fashioned, but it also may be the way of the future.
Have you asked yourself this question? What would your supervisor or client say about you to other people? As professionals, we often direct our focus on our competence. We think about how to be better at what we do. We read books and articles on improving our craft or our skills because we are ambitious and this would seem to be the best way to achieve our ambitions. Competence, however, is only one part of the experience for people who work with you.
Here's an example. I work with a client who, especially when I started with them, existed in a highly pressurized environment. There were simply too few people doing too much work, which is why I was brought in. As part of the work I did, there were many instances where I needed files from my client's servers, and was not permitted to have remote access. I have always believed that I would rather spend two hours driving in and getting the files myself, than to ask anyone who worked there to spend ten minutes tracking down the file and emailing it to me.
Why would I do this? After all, ten minutes is not a lot of time, especially compared to my two hours. I did it because I wanted to make the experience of working with me as positive as I possibly could. And for a group of people who were feeling stretched so thinly, the last thing they needed was an interruption, even if it was only for ten minutes. I absolutely did not want their experience with me to be a source of frustration or stress when that was the norm for them. When they thought of my name, I wanted them to think, "I don't have to worry about Andy. He's got it covered." I did everything I could to be an oasis of calm in their hectic work lives.
Notice that the issue of competence has been completely absent from this discussion? So where, then, does the professional competence fit into all this?
Competence is important, but only in how it fits into the overall experience of working with you. I think I'm very good at the things I do: creative project management and writing, primarily. I think it's absolutely essential to meet a fairly high level of competence. In other words, you have to be able to do the job you've been hired to do. But I know that there are a lot of people who are "very good" at managing creative projects, and "very good" at writing. And from your client's or supervisor's perspective, whether you're "very good" or "very, very good" isn't critically important. That's when it matters how easy you are to work with, or how much they simply like you and enjoy your company.
It all comes down to this: How well do you contribute to your client's basic human need to be happy?
For a lot of people, this represents a shift in thinking. Start by training yourself to constantly monitor how your clients/supervisors/colleagues perceive you. If you sense that they are happy with your work and enjoying your company, you're on the right track. If you sense that this isn't the case, resist the urge to be defensive and ask yourself honestly what you can do to turn it around. In the long run, if you can master this, you'll never run out of work.
Before you slam the door on that question, let's consider what possible upside there could be to sharing information we've long kept private. In an interesting article on MercuryNews.com (The Case for Oversharing), Chris O'Brien does a great service, I believe, by questioning that which we believe to be an unquestionable truth: Are there benefits to sharing more information online. I think it's good to question these beliefs because firmly held beliefs have the unfortunate tendency of excluding everything, good or bad, that doesn't ascribe to the belief firmly held. Which means that, if there are positives outside that belief system, they will never be found.
O'Brien offers a couple of examples of online services in development that will ask you to share information that you might consider very personal, like financial data. The benefit of this openness is that, by sharing this information, and having access to information provided by a community of others, you can see how, for example, your spending compares to others. If you discovered that you were paying $120 for your residential phone service, but that lots of people were paying less than $30 for the same service, wouldn't you investigate and find out why. (This basically describes the circumstances that led me to switch from a large phone company to a VoIP service a few years ago.)
Here's a question to ponder: Why is it culturally forbidden to talk about your salary with co-workers? If you knew how your salary compared to those of the dozen or so people who do the same job you do, wouldn't that have value? (Many corporations actually have policies forbidding you to disclose your salary, which is a clear indication of who benefits most from this particular taboo.)
[By the way, interesting discussion here on this specific topic.]
So perhaps it's possible that we should consider the benefits of less privacy. Maybe we can come up with a way to protect ourselves from those who mean us harm and still enjoy the benefits of being more informed.
Marta Kagan's "Bonafide Marketing Genius" Blog
Andre Sanders' "Running Without Condition" Blog
Jessica Sneeringer's "Mal-Diction" Blog