The Immense Value Of Small Talk In Social Media

January 10, 2012

Social Media, Twitter

The Immense Value Of Small Talk In Social Media - Social Media Revolver

There’s Nothing Trivial About Trivia

If your boss doesn’t “get” social media …

I can’t tell you how many times a CEO or some other type of corporate bigwig shot down my suggestion to use Twitter because “it’s nothing but people telling you what they had for lunch,” — and then spent the next fifteen minutes telling me where to get the best steak in town.

You see, the problem with people who trivialize social media because it is trivial is not that they don’t understand marketing. It’s not that they don’t understand social media marketing. The real problem is, they don’t understand themselves. A lot of CEOs exude charm, and those who don’t tend to be pretty good at personalizing a business relationship right from the get-go. Few of them would dream of launching into a hard-sell sales pitch before warming up the crowd with a few jokes or topical observations. Fewer still would object to five hours of irrelevant activity on the golf course with a six-figure prospect.

Social media marketing is a lot like real life — maybe too much for its own good. Selling on Twitter or Facebook is so much like selling in the real world that we fail to see the forest for the trees. Things we do absolutely unconsciously in real business — such as chatting about the weather before launching into a PowerPoint — become exceedingly conscious and calculated activities when we experience them on social platforms, and thus seem somehow awkward, unnatural.

The Business Benefits of Social Media Small Talk

OK: so much for philosophy. The point is, small talk in social media works. I’ve experienced it first-hand for years, especially at Brad Shorr on Twitter and on our agency’s Facebook page. I’ve always found it very difficult to get people Liking and retweeting business-oriented posts. And the drier the post, the harder it is to get traction. On the other hand, my most offhand, irrelevant statements frequently attract lots of attention. (I don’t think I’m alone here: what’s been your experience?) And all this attention has a lot to do with my ability to connect with more people and connect with them more deeply.

One of our clients was struggling on Facebook and Twitter. I advised them to talk less about their business and more about anything else. Over the course of a few months, we saw their communities grow and community interaction increase. Some of the conversation was relevant, some was not so relevant, but sprinkled in amidst it all were legitimate inquiries and mentions that strongly advanced the company’s brand awareness and reputation.

Social Business Is Real Business

I really do think social media has allowed us to return to a more real way of conducting business. During the reign of traditional media, conversational marketing took a back seat to a much less natural form of business we all know and love as interruption marketing. We were conditioned to think that it was natural to bludgeon someone over the head with a sales pitch the minute they walked into the room, because that’s how TV commercials work. We were conditioned to behave as passive receivers of sales pitches because that’s how billboards and direct mail work.

Corporate leaders need to accept this and adapt. They need to stop blocking employees from using social media sites during work hours. They need to recognize every employee’s social conversation, trivial or otherwise, as brand enhancers and lead generators. They need to stop viewing small talk as the enemy and start viewing it as their secret weapon. Above all they need to stop making speeches and start making conversation.

10 Tips For Effective Social Media Chit Chat

O.K., then: if you’re ready for some big time small talk, here are a few tips to help you do it the right way.

  • Spare me the details. It’s OK to tell me the football-size burrito you had for dinner didn’t agree with you, but let’s leave it at that.
  • Don’t be a Johnny One Note. If all you do is talk small, eventually you will be regarded at a distraction. People expect serious conversation in the mix if they are using social media for business purposes.
  • React as well as initiate. People appreciate it when you jump into conversations they initiate. If you ignore other people’s small talk, they will soon ignore yours.
  • Calculated small talk is NOT manipulative. It’s smart to talk about the Super Bowl in January, but in June … not so much. It’s perfectly fine to latch on to hot topics as a means of cultivating relationships. After all — in real life, isn’t this exactly what we do?
  • Name names. There’s a world of difference between “Thanks for the retweet” and “Thanks for the retweet, Shelly”.
  • Don’t forget your blog.Part of the attraction of reading blogs is that you can get to know the blogger. If you take the personality out of your posts, you may as well just rely on your company website.
  • Be colorful. Small talk needn’t be mundane. Put some thought into it. For example, right now I’m tempted to say, “How about those (Chicago) Bears?” Perhaps “The Bears are so bad I’m starting to root for the (Green Bay) Packers” would generate a bit more interest and conversation.
  • Be sincere. Talk about things that genuinely interest you. Be yourself, not the person you think others expect you to be: that formula will cause your worlds to collide. 
  • Be selective. Just because you can talk about anything on social media doesn’t mean you should. Just as in any other business venue, if you go out of your way to shock or offend people, you’re going to hurt your own interests.
  • Drop the game face. People engage professionally in social media because they want to personalize their business relationships. If you’re too buttoned down, you may as well button up.

Two Small Small Talk Case Studies

I noticed this tweet from my Twitter friend Drew McLellan, a standout marketing and branding specialist, a true thought leader. He gives us a good example of small talk made simple and effective.

Example of Small Talk

Example of Small Talk

Drew really didn’t do anything more than tweet a link on a topic sure to attract the attention of a fair number of people: beer. He also credited the source, a generous way to create a few new connections for Aden Hepburn. (And BTW, the fact Drew tweeted about beer at 7 AM tells me all I need to know about this fine fellow!)

Here is another tweet that caught my eye recently, about the weather:

How to Talk about the Weather

How to Talk about the Weather

My friend Joanna Paterson is a writer, so not surprisingly she describes an important weather development, not just any weather development, in way that you can practically see what’s happening. And it’s really hard not to respond to this tweet.

Bottom line: Small talk can be interesting, and small talk can make you interesting. One is tempted to say, “There are no boring conversations, but only boring conversationalists.”

What Do You Think?

  • What’s your take on social media small talk? Do you like it, loathe it, take it or leave it?
  • Has social media small talk ever opened up a business opportunity for you?

(Brad works for Straight North, a Chicago marketing firm. The agency specializes in middle market B2B firms, with clients that do things like merchant processing services and food contract packaging. Connect with Brad on Twitter to discuss Internet marketing and writing … perhaps with a little sports and weather mixed in.)

About Brad Shorr

Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North. With agency, freelance and in-house experience, he brings a broad perspective to Internet marketing issues. His posts about social media, SEO copywriting and marketing strategy appear on many industry leading blogs.

View all posts by Brad Shorr

13 Responses to “The Immense Value Of Small Talk In Social Media”

  1. SocialBuzzUniversity Says:

    EXCELLENT posts! The world needs more of this social media truth! Well done Brad!


  2. Phil Gerbyshak Says:

    It depends. If it’s sincere, I love it. It works for me and engages me and makes me “like” your company. If it’s forced or contrived, no thank you.

    And I think the reason it’s so nice online is because you don’t have to immediately volley your answer back. You can take your time and craft something, so you sound as smart as you are.


  3. bradshorr Says:

    Social Buzz, Thank you! I try to be realistic. Phil, As we’ve been discussing elsewhere, the immediacy factor of real life small talk can be uncomfortable for some people (such as me). Usually when I’m with a group of people I can think of something witty or pertinent to say … a day or two later! Such is life. 🙂


  4. Heidi Thorne Says:

    This is soooo true, Brad! It works because social media is a reflection of conversation. Great post as usual!


  5. Drew McLellan Says:


    Amen!  We blather on about building community and this being authentic and then we think we should spout marketing missives?  Brands and businesses need to find their humanity and lead with that in social media.

    From the time I was a kid in college, I’ve been hearing “people do business with people” and finally thanks to social media — we have a chance to be real people.  Whole people. People with kids.  People who like beer.  People who have opinions.  People who have professional expertise.

    When we share that whole person — people get a sense of what it would be like to work with us.  So why in the world do most businesses squander that golden opportunity by sounding like a sales pitch?

    Great post and thanks for noticing that I am more than a marketing guy!




  6. Joanna Paterson Says:

    Hello Brad, I am so delighted to find one of my many weather tweets mentioned here! 
    I realised early on with Twitter that talking about the weather was not just a consequence of living in Scotland, it was a simple invitation for others to join in without needing to sound clever or smart, particularly if they’d never spoken to me before. I hope we don’t ever lose that kind of social conversation on social media or we might as well give up and just ping blog posts and brilliant offerings at each other, with the odd inspirational quote thrown in for good measure 😉


  7. bradshorr Says:

    Drew, You’ve expressed it eloquently, as usual. Some of my most memorable business deals have involved beer. Or wine. Keep up the great work in getting out the real message on social media.

    Joanna, You’ve taken it a step further by “talking” about weather in your photography – it’s always nice to see or hear about what it’s like in a distant place where someone you know lives. It just makes you feel closer, builds a connection. 

    Heidi, Yes, the charm of social media is its conversational feel. After so many years of reading and writing corporate prose, it’s such a refreshing change of pace. 

    Thanks all for reading and commenting!


  8. Jeni Says:

    Thanks for the great article, Brad. Keep it Simple always works.


  9. KrisOlin Says:

    Great post, Brad!

    Your top 10 tips are absolutely spot on. From now on I shall try to do my humble social media chit chat with those in mind.

    I’d like to add an interesting small talk sample of my own as I just received a tweet from @glenn_hughes:twitter  about a burglary that happened in his neighbourhood. Check it out by clicking the image link bottom left.

    For those who are too young, or just otherwise don’t know Glenn, he is one of the most talented bass players in the world. He replaced Roger Glover in Deep Purple and is currently with Black Country Communion @bccommunion:twitter with Jason Bonham. Please don’t say you don’t know Jason Bonham either…



  10. Robin Houghton Says:

    Absolutely. Thanks for your tips – very useful. I blogged here about the importance of chit-chat on Twitter – – but it’s one of the hardest things to persuade the CEO that there’s value in it. But it really is the social glue that holds it all together and can make the difference between someone contacting you or not, between being seen as a stranger or a trusted ‘real’ person, between being just another company trying to do business and a real person who works for that company.


  11. bradshorr Says:

    Robin, Let’s keep writing these posts – once is clearly not enough. Such is life!

    Kris, Thanks for letting me run with the post here. You’ve got a great blog that really knows how to mix the big talk with the small talk. That’s a pretty awful tweet, but it’s the exactly the type of thing that we want to talk about and know about. Brings up another fun aspect of small talk that’s appealing to some – it’s unscripted. I never imagined this post would have me thinking about Deep Purple.


  12. Stan Faryna Says:

    Love what Phil says in his comment about making the best of the online social experience:

    “You can take your time and craft something, so you sound as smart as you are.”

    When I was in my twenties, I loathed small talk. I couldn’t do it – do what I thought that small talk was. And what I think it was? It was talking about things that didn’t excite me. 

    In my thirties, I learned that the problem was me – not small talk. If you want to talk about something that matters to do, do some of the talking. Make conversations. [grin]

    Thanks to you, Brad and Kris, for a good read.

    Recently on my blog: Castleville and Social Media Cheats. And other social media DOHs!


  13. Gerrard6587 Says:

    The points that you have made here are very valid…we seriously need to understand the importance of social media sites like facebook and twitter sooner…..


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