Hitch hiking in corporate social media

It is a form of constipation when it comes to writing anything in public.  And I am not talking about multimillion corporations worried about lawsuits or their careers if their names appear under a press release or a blog post.  Even (or especially) small companies suffer from the lack of bravado.  And the result is catastrophic.  No communication is bad communication.  In a world inundated with incoming signals, you get drowned out.

So how to energize the situation?   Here are techniques I have tried with varying degrees of success.   Never start with the top boss, he or she is usually the problem.   They are aware that there is a problem but when it really comes down to it, they can’t write to save their lives.   The same person that is fascinating and full of jokes, stories and details when he gets to know you, clamps up when he sits to a keyboard or pen and paper.  Fixed (boring) phrases, editing and re-editing until there is no life left in the text.  So if not the boss, who?  There is usually a sales director, marketing person or techie with a talent.   They may be afraid from past failures but they basically have the urge to communicate.  Use them!

The only thing you need top level consent on really is the main message.  Reassure them that no matter what gets written by someone in the company in any social media situation we will be following these basic assumptions about the company, the brand and the product messaging.  Help them focus on the big picture which is their job anyway, rather than examining the details of every blog post or LinkedIn update.

Where is the material?  Usually right in front of everyone! Any company that has been in business for some time, has amassed loads of material from conferences, sales meetings, trade shows, research…it is just sitting in a pile or a hard disk somewhere.   It is magical that first time I get the customer to see through these glasses as it hits him just what a goldmine he is sitting on.   Match the information to the audience and we have the energy to get this plane flying!

Here is a fine point though:  social media is NOT about making a new car in order to get somewhere.  It is more like hitching a lift every day.  Uncertain and dynamic.  What are your customers using already?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Linkedin?  You go to them in a way they will appreciate.  And make damn sure the content is useful.  No point in doing it anyhow else.  “Useful” can also mean “pleasant” or “motivating” or “feel good”.   It doesn’t have to change their lives but it has to fit in pleasantly.  If this is B2B communication it means “helps me get results”.  Me the customer.

The hitch hiking analogy is probably the best one to keep. You get in the car of someone you have never met.  You try and think of a topic of conversation they might find interesting.   You get off when they tell you to or you feel you have overstayed your welcome.   You offer useful tips and politely try and find out more about them.   That way you might get a lift tomorrow too!

Hitching a lift also offers itself as a metaphor to keep in mind that there are many other ways that people get information without you.  You want your information to be picked up?  Put it where they expect to find your information, where they are likely to be positively inclined towards its presence. Don’t stand in the middle of an uphill and expect cars to stop! What influences people to stop?  Time of day, your clothing, your smile…they all make a difference.  If you don’t care about all of these ‘details’, you’re not going to get a lift.

(More on ‘real’ hitch hiking advice – one of my favourite means of transport – with twenty practical pieces of advice here.)

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