Dan’s tips for social media success

People have asked me if I plan to write a book about being a community manager and using social media to follow up Critical Path. Nope. Critical Path came from leveraging 15 years of experience, after which I thought I’d learned something valuable worth sharing. I’m still a newbie at community stuff.

But I can tell you the one thing that I know works wonders, but many people and brands get wrong. And I can sum it up in three words.

People use Twitter and Facebook because they want a conversation. Twitter is generally one-on-one, while Facebook is more like a town hall meeting. But in both cases, people often ask a specific question of a specific person and they expect a response.

So, hear them out, and respond. Listen, then talk. That’s what you should do.

Why don’t more people do it? A few reasons that I’ve seen so far:

They don’t understand the medium.
I think of Twitter as a cocktail party. Someone recognizes you and approaches you, tapping you on the shoulder. Do you ignore them, or do you turn to greet them and engage in a conversation? That’s simple. You don’t stride across the room as if nothing has happened, as if that person didn’t just make direct contact. You don’t ignore them. And you sure as hell don’t duct-tape their mouth so they cannot speak again.

They are misusing it as a marketing tool.
Too many people with traditional marketing experience see Twitter and Facebook as one-way advertising vehicles. They all want the power of a global, instant cheap message shouted from the mountaintops — but they also want the magic element of engagement. They want devoted followers hanging on their every word; they want people paying attention to them because they actually care about what’s being said. But they don’t actually consider that a conversation is a two-way affair. They are screaming in a format where a natural voice speaks louder; they want engagement, but they refuse to engage. It’s all wrong.

They don’t have the time to do it right.
Replying to every tweet takes a hell of a lot of time. At Activision, running (the now very different) @OneOfSwords, I’d say 80% of my day was spent responding to people on Twitter — sometimes giving them info they want, sometimes answering their question even as they call me terrible names, and sometimes just acknowledging their existence. And the number one piece of positive feedback I got on a regular basis is “thank you for the reply” — even if I tell them terrible news or we strongly disagree on something. I gave them the respect of an answer. And when you can get someone who is ready to punch their monitor because they hate their game and the game developer and the game publisher and you are their main target to say thank you, you’re doing something fundamentally right. Karmically too! I let these people know I cared, because they loudly assumed I did not. And long-term, simply answering is a sign of caring that breeds empathy, understanding, and a fanbase. If you are in charge of a brand other than yourself, this dialogue is what everybody says they want but nobody seems willing to actually invest in the time to create. And you never stop building this.

So I want to tear my hair out when I see people make the same stupid mistakes over and over again on social media. This is my absolute basic list of how to run your Twitter account.

Don’t ignore people when they make contact. 
They won’t go away just because you want them to — and if they do, they will go away and complain through the very same awesomely powerful channel you are using, and negative vibes spread faster online. If the answer to their question or comment is “I’ll bring that up” or “yes, but I don’t have all the info yet, stand by” or “we’re discussing that” or even “sorry, but that’s simply the way it was designed to work,” those are valid and they show respect for the question. Acknowledgement is what they want. Agreement is a great bonus when it happens, but “do you see me” is at the core of every contact you get.

Don’t silence the audience until necessary. 
Yes, block the racists and spammers, but tell them you are blocking them because of a communication breakdown. Say “I’m sorry, if you’re going to use that language, we can’t keep up this discussion.” But you are going to have to take your lumps, too. If you put up a YouTube video, you are going to have negative comments. But if you block the comments altogether — worse yet, preemptively, before a flame war even breaks out — you are acknowledging that the audience’s voice does not matter in a forum where the audience’s voice is the entire reason for the success of the format. If you want the (largely silent) adoration of the public, you have to accept its (largely vocal) hatred.

Say something of value.
If I had a nickel for every time I saw a company or brand or product Twitter account shovel out nonsense like “RT if you like our thing!” or “#screenshot #productname #brand #releasedate #like #fun #hashtag” I would have a shitload of nickels. How will you ever get anybody following or listening to what you say if you are just regurgitating marketing points with pound signs in front of them? Are you really increasing brand awareness or — god forbid, sales — by operating generic roboaccounts that say absolutely nothing? (And do your friends use “finger quotes” for “literally” “everything they say”? That’s the face-to-face equivalent of a hashtag. Go easy on them.) The ultimate litmus test: Would you, as a human being, want to respond to your own brand’s tweets? People want to talk to other people. Share something that shows a common ground, and act like a person.

Acknowledge what just went wrong.
People turn to Twitter to obtain and to share immediate information — someone has died, someone has won a major sporting event, stuff like that. That also includes looking for some awareness when the thing you do doesn’t work right — a bug or an outage are also real-time common experiences. Most of the time they just want to know that it’s not just them — or if it is, what the did wrong so they can get back on track. So if you have a problem that is affecting a large number of people, own it sooner rather than later. The confusion that auto-generates rancor in the meantime can be mostly avoided by just saying “Yeah, that just happened.” And yet, some people think acknowledging a flaw — living in the same world as their customer, seeing what they see — hurts their brand. Nope. It’s actually the best and most human thing you can do.

Smile, sucker. You’re being watched. 
People are watching not only for a response but how you respond, especially to the haters. Were you graceful when someone addressed you with vulgarity? Did you take a polite, professional stand not to be abused, like a human being should? That will be noticed — and respected like a human being going forward.

Everything I just said in TL;DR form is this: Listen, then talk. Variations on the theme: Did you get a complaint? Listen, then talk. Is there something going on in the world (an awards show, a news event) that your followers are discussing that you can safely comment on? Listen, then talk. Did someone just call you an asshole? Listen, then talk.

It’s amazing how many people simply don’t do it.