How Should I Use Social Media

One of the most common questions I was hearing two years ago was “How should I use social media?”. Recently, I’ve been hearing the question less and less. I’d normally be thrilled that people were learning how to effectively use social media, except people aren’t. People have stopped asking, but only because they’re jumping in without a plan – or worse, with a poorly designed plan.

Since November of 2010, I’ve been collecting data from a series of spiders, feeds, and alert platforms I was able to tie together. I’ve sliced the data-up and created the reference guide (located below) outlining the most effective ways to use various different social media channels, some pitfalls to be aware of, and some opportunities & insights to consider.

I also included three pieces of “stinky” advice that have been presented to me over-and-over. These are some of the most dangerous pieces of advice, because they seem logical, yet can be interpreted in hundreds of different ways. People misinterpreting these pieces of advice are actively damaging brands, wasting money, and annoying their audience.

Stinky advice #1: Fish where the fish are.

I have two big problems with this; it’s obvious, and it’s misleading. It’s obvious because it’s common sense; you don’t fish in the city, and don’t market AXE deodorant in bingo halls. It’s misleading because people have been using it to rationalize being on Facebook & Twitter. Sure, your audience might be on those social networks, but so is everyone else. The real question should be: how are they using those social networks? Answering this can provide you with insight on how to really target the people who’d be most receptive to your message.

Stinky advice #2: Listen & respond to your customers.

On the surface, this seems like advice that everyone should follow. My issue is that it’s not specific. Almost anything can be considered a response; and your customers talk about so many different things, the real value is finding commonalities between the subjects your customers talk about. Many agencies & marketers I’ve been working with have interpreted this as: listen for brand mentions, consider sentiment, and respond accordingly. This, obviously, isn’t a bad thing to do; but it’s the least you can do. If you’re not doing this, you’re missing out on the lowest hanging fruit social media channels can produce. If you want to really create brand advocates & engage with your customers demonstrate that you’re listening through real-world actions. (i.e. Don’t just tell me you’re sorry, fix the problem so it doesn’t happen again.)

Stinky advice #3: Content is king.

This has to be the most ambiguous statement I’ve ever heard. Everything a marketer produces can be considered content, so yeah, it’s king, queen, and everyone else. I’ve actually worked with several major brands that use this statement to fuel their shotgun approach to content development. They’ve interpreted this to mean: Create an editorial calendar that focuses on supporting different business units throughout the year by targeting different user personas. The problem with this is that a brand that tries to be many different things to many different people risks alienating everyone. A better option is to focus on something you can own, and use alternate communication channels for secondary messaging.

(original size)  or  (PDF)


The better you understand the concepts illustrated in this reference guide, the better you’ll be able to craft a communications plan.

1. Understand what you want from participating in social media:

Branding: building or maintaining an image or reputation.

Direct Sales: selling a product or service directly to users.

Indirect Sales: converting a user into a customer through the use of a conversion funnel.

Research: finding out insights about your customers, your market, or your industry.

Customer Service: helping users who are already customers.

Collaboration: helping employees learn & communicate with each other (and your customers).

2. Understand the issues & opportunities associated with each potential social media channel.

3. Select channels, and set realistic benchmarks. Understanding how different networks grow, and what to listen for is key.

4. Never stop testing, evaluating, and learning from the communities you participate. It’s better to participate in fewer channels effectively, than it is to try and participate everywhere the “fish” are.


I encourage you to ask questions, post comments, and share any insights you have.

If you’d like a high-res PDF version of this, you can download one here.


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