by Sophia Madana
I’m often asked how I got started working with social media. To be honest, I never know how to answer this question effectively. To keep a long story short, it was due to a mixed bag of haphazard occurrences, shaken up and spit out like dice in a game of Yahtzee that brought me to where I am as a digital professional.
I understand that’s a frustrating way to explain it, especially for someone who is trying to find a definitive career path. But for right now, it’s all I’ve got.
A handful of people I know and I were some of the first to explore using social media platforms as a tool to tell stories, create brand personalities, and engage with clientele just a few years ago. I’ve watched the new social media industry evolve as more people jump on board with this new (ish) form of communication. I’ve seen brands transform using digital and social media in a much more sophisticated manner than when I first started, making me believe that this is only the beginning and we’re only scratching the surface of its potential functions.
But with the good, we must take the bad, I’m afraid. The industry is very young; I personally would date it back to 2007, right before Facebook “fan pages” came to fruition. But at this point, it’s old enough for bandwagoners to latch on to people’s coattails and learn just enough to make you believe they have authority on the subject.
These are the people who buy vintage-looking Chicago Bulls shirts from stores like Old Navy to pose as original fans from the Jordan days, while the true fans who lived and breathed the consecutive championship games are dusting off their VCRs and pulling out the Maxell VHS tapes they used to record the 3-peat series of 1993.
But, I digress. This isn’t an issue of 90’s Kid vs. Ironic Hipster. This isn’t an argument of how old or young someone is supposed to be in order to be successful at social media; age is not a factor. It’s a matter of how much skin you’re willing to have in the game. Social media is absolutely a learnable field, but just because you’ve read a couple of blog posts on Mashable here and there doesn’t make you an expert. It’s about getting your hands dirty in the mess of the World Wide Web, trying things and failing miserably, learning from the mistakes, and then approaching your goals in a new, more educated way.
It drives me bananas when I see bloggers such as this “genius” dilute all the research and work we’ve done to get where we are in the field. And don’t even get me started on all the “Social Media: You’re Doing It Wrong” bloggers. I recently I read this one and found it rather misleading. While most of his points are valid, this marketing guy just advised small businesses to incentivize Yelp reviews. If he tried out his own advice, he would know that Yelp can (and will) flag you and/or boot you off its site for using tactics just like this to populate your page with positive reviews. The result could cause a detrimental blow to an independent business. Not cool, bro. Not cool at all.
One of the major problems with this emerging field is that there is now an abundance of options in such a short amount of time. Some people will see this as an opportunity to take advantage of you and make money without earning it. They’ll sell you ideas with no depth behind them that seem like a silver-bullet option to the naked eye. When in reality, it’s just plain bullshit. BJ Mendelson drives that point home in this Social Times interview. He notes that marketers and journalists started taking social networks so goddamned seriously that their “tactics” and “strategies” completely miss the point of being on social networks as a business in the first place.
I have a few rules that I live by when conducting social media strategy:
1. Know your audience.
2. Don’t try to sell anything.
3. Don’t over-think it.
4. Stay true to your brand.
5. Don’t be an asshole or a racist.
BOOM. There’s your fancy schmancy social media template. Does that look like rocket science? No? That’s because it’s not.
Being new media savvy isn’t about being smarter than everyone else or having the magic formula. It’s about learning your audience as people and figuring out what they want to hear from you, and having the patience to see it all through. The substance is bound to vary; no one thing that worked for Brand A is sure to work for Brand B, but as long as you have a way to decipher the needs of your audience, and catering to those needs, then you’re doing your job right.
It worries me that pretenders may lead astray people who want to try social media on their own. And when they come to the conclusion that it’s not working, they will blame the whole industry, calling it a bunch of bullshit we put out there to fool you into giving us money. It’s the reason why I have to spend half the time in my career explaining to people that what I do isn’t a hoax; it’s very real and provides real value to your business, and its progress can be measured.
I’m excited for the future prospects of social media and where it’s headed, and I invite anyone who is genuinely interested to join me on the journey. But hold off on the authoritative blog posts. No one respects the guy who tells war stories before he’s even gone in the trenches.