You know the feeling—the moment you think that you have everything under control and are “covered” on every social network that you think is relevant for you and your clients, it’s inevitable that you start hearing about some new social network being touted as “the next big thing.” If you’re a professional in the digital space, you’ve got an obligation, both to yourself and to your clients, to check it out, discover what the hype is about, experiment and see what you think. More important, your job is to evaluate what the value these networks might deliver—whether for yourself or for your clients. There are worse jobs, right?
So, when it comes to trying to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the digital space, there are some problems. The biggest one: people who join new social networks and act the same way there that they do on other social networks. Without first doing their homework. And that? It infuriates me. More than just a little.
Joining a new social networking community and doing and/or sharing the same content there that you share on other networks is a huge mistake. And I’ll explain why, and give you some best practices—so let’s get started.
Monitor: Watch, Listen and Learn
First things first: when joining and participating in a new social media network, you have to monitor, watch and understand the community that’s already there. After all, they got there first, so assuming you can just pop over, take a gander and have it all figured out is, well, a tad bit arrogant. And that never works out well.
So, the best way to navigate a new social media network is to monitor. By listening and watching you can fairly quickly and easily see how content is shared, how it is formatted. And you can (and should) start taking notes. Lots of notes. Joining a new social network is like starting a new job: no one expects you to know everything on the first day, but no one will appreciate if you start telling them “In my previous job we used to do it like this…” You can, at a later date, try to implement your past experience into the work flow. But in the early days, you’ll save yourself some work and it’ll go a long way toward establishing your credibility if you do your homework first, and let the network teach you a few things.
Establish a Content Strategy
Once you’ve finished your monitoring, you should have a good feel for the new social network, as well as best practices that are being observed by the people participating there. Now’s the time to start adapting your content strategy to what you’ve learned. Ask yourself questions. Does this social network put a lot of emphasis on visual content? If so, it’s time to start including some attention-grabbing pictures on your posts. Does the platform allow for rich text formatting? Use it wisely to highlight the most important bits of your content. The key is to get the most out of the tools that are available to you once you start posting. The objective is to make your content stand out because it fits perfectly within the realm of that particular social media network.
You know the guy. The one who shows up at every party and gets in your face and tells you ad nauseum how great he is? And how you can’t wait to flee? Don’t be that guy. Don’t use social networks as a broadcast-only tool. If you do, you’re only taking advantage of 30 percent of the true value that social networks can provide. Suck it up and admit that developing relationships on social media networks is no different that developing relationships in “real” life. Spend time establishing relationships, commenting, sharing other people’s content—even if they are your competitors. If you can’t appreciate examples of great social strategy and can’t learn from those case studies, you won’t evolve. Oh, and one more thing: Unless your name is Jean Luc Picard, and you’re the captain of a Star Fleet Vessel, please don’t use the word “engage,” thankyouverymuch.
Don’t Cross Post
You’ll be tempted to cross post from one social media network to another but … and I’m begging you … just don’t do it! It’s lame. It’s lazy. And it’s rude. If I’m on LinkedIn, I’m really not interested in seeing your Twitter feed in my LinkedIn stream. And it’s worse when you broadcast your Twitter content to Facebook. And it’s like wearing a huge sign on your head that says “I’m a lazy idiot.”
In fact, this irritates me so much that I recently I started to do something quite radical (surprise, surprise, right?). I’m committed to immediately unfollowing anyone who posts on my Twitter stream straight from Facebook. You see, I’ve lost all the patience I had for people who are using lazy methods to broadcast content. If I’m truly interested in that specific content, I will subscribe to their Facebook stream or like their Facebook page. What I simply cannot stand is those truncated posts that look like a cat accidentally pressed the enter key in the middle of composing a tweet. Even more important, I can’t stand the laziness and the arrogance involved when you cross post your content.
Every social network has its own style, its own community and its own feel.. Call me a purist, but I like it that way. It’s a challenge to transform a tweet into a Facebook or Google+ post and vice versa. This challenge is also a way to keep your creative juices flowing—and that’s never a bad thing. Plus, if you factor in adding strong visual elements to your streams, cross-posting makes absolutely no sense.
Final Thoughts on Best Practices
Joining a new social network shouldn’t be viewed as “one more thing to add to the list.” And you shouldn’t go into a new social network lightly. After all, you wouldn’t deal with people or a new business opportunity that way, right?
Real life teaches a lot of lessons about best practices in social media networks. If you’re willing to pay attention, of course. And any time you wonder about appropriate behavior in social media networks, just think about how you would handle something or how something works in real life. Just as you take into account each person’s unique personality as you begin to work with them in your day-to-day in person contact, you should apply the same common sense principles when considering participating in a new social network.
By taking early steps to learn how a community works, who participates there, what kind of content and posting strategies are acceptable and effective can go a long way toward helping you in your personal efforts in new social media networks, as well as for your clients who might be a fit there.
This isn’t just about the right kind of behavior in social media networks, it’s about maximizing different social media networks as part of your overall digital strategy
Sure, this means more work, more hours spent in front of a screen, more research and more changes. Yet being able to successfully use a variety of platforms—and show your clients how they can achieve results on the latest and greatest networks—is more than worth the time, effort and preparation.
Fernando Fonseca is the Digital Strategy Ninja and founder of SoMeOps, a Seattle-based digital agency. A blogger and an activist, Fernando coined the term “Netflixed” and he doesn’t have a Klout score. You can follow him on Twitter.
Image by B Rosen via Creative Commons