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.
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:
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.)