I have this theory. Ready to hear it?
Ok, here goes. I think that over the next 5 years, we will all collectively regret how much time we’ve dedicated to social networking. Whether you published one tweet or sponsored a Facebook story, we’ll look back on the post-Y2K years and shudder at our public diaries. Complaining about our relationship woes online, sharing our sandwiches, babies, and most private moments with total strangers: the 2000s’ equivalent of what bellbottoms were to the ’70s, big hair to the ’80s, and boybands were to the ’90s.
We’ll remember it as fun and entertaining, but we’ll admit that we got swept up in it, following the crowd, fearful of losing relevance and turning into our parents, ears covered whenever rap music would come on. We’ll also lament these gaping wounds in our lives, devoid of meaningful relationships, cocooned in narcissism. And we’ll realize that nothing beneficial really came of it. Even if our careers were established off of coordinating social media, or we found our soulmate in the intestines of a comments thread, the pluses can’t leverage the immeasurable amount of life we pumped into these apps, the time we spent distracted and misled by other people’s journeys, the energy wasted fearing missing out.
It’s gonna suck.
But ’til we wake, this is the bed we made for ourselves. There are photos to be posted and tweets to be twat and Buzzfeed lists to be Liked…
While most people participate in social media for recreation (read: sheer boredom), brands and businesses fixate on it as Marketing panacea, and this can be potentially devastating. For years, I’ve been asked for my insight on social media – whether to a fan off the street or a stadium of advertising professionals – and my response has stayed the same: social media, although valuable as a tool, platform, and resource, is not the solution to your problems. It is just one of many means to an end. The answer isn’t the hammer, it’s the artisan. It’s you.
If you research social media strategies, the primary objective is gaining Followers – without discrimination. That’s like assembling an army with a fishing net, disregarding skill, aptitude, or ability. And that’s how you should value your audience – as your soldiers. Loyalists. Ambassadors. “It’s quality, not quantity.” It’s about curation. It’s about honing and developing a robust and strategic following, not just empty numbers on a scoreboard. Although social media points may impress an outsider, it’s never enough to win the heart, to convert. (Meanwhile, your devotees would most likely be happier if that number shrank!)
To attain those lofty digits in both Followers and Likes, the social media mavens have got it down to a science: Attach trending hashtags so you circulate amongst the popular conversations. Post lowest-common-denominator imagery that anyone can relate to. Don’t speak too much or too little. See where I’m going with this? It’s the difference between the weird kids in high school who moved against the grain and went on to take over the world, while the homecoming court faded into mediocrity. The cornerstones of effective branding are honesty and individualism. Meanwhile, the aim of social networking is to Follow, mimic, and disappear. You signed on to be heard, but now you’re just another voice in the crowd.
This begs the question, should you even log on? Social media is an option, you know. Oftentimes, people are so intimidated or confused by social networking that they fail to consider whether it’s the appropriate channel for their cause. Some of the most prominent brands in the world have succeeded outside of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For many, their refrain was probably the smartest choice in defining the brand’s identity. There’s something to be said for maintaining mystery in telling a brand narrative. How many hot dog factories are Vining how the sausage gets made?
Social media is the vehicle, but maybe you should be steering a sports car, not an SUV. While everyone sails by boat, take the plane! If you run an organic grocery – in lieu of a digital platform – maybe your message would be best delivered as a recycled print newsletter. Let’s say your fashion label is clandestine, shrouded in exclusivity. Is it right to invite everyone to the party? Social media is the vehicle, but maybe you’re better off as a pedestrian. The importance here lays on you, the driver. You are the brand. And the most effective ways to identify, shape, and engage with your audience can’t be downloaded. They are:
1. consistency in voice,
2. honest communication,
3. integrity in business,
4. and unique personality.
Think of your brand as a trustworthy friend, equipped with the traits you seek in a dependable partner. Then decide the clearest and most efficient manner of demonstrating them. Vomiting all over everyone’s phones may not make the list.
The reason why I get asked so much about social media is because much of The Hundreds’ success can be attributed to the Internet. Even back when blogs were king and MySpace was stretching its legs, it was the same conversation, except about HTML and WordPress. “How can we build a website like yours?” But they were asking the wrong questions (and I stopped trying to correct them).
Every number of years, the media channels evolve: the printing press, radio, television, the web… In high school, I stapled and photocopied ‘zines to rally support. Once Blogspot launched, I transferred that approach to a free and broader format. The media helped get my point across, but it was up to me to choose which was the most sensible, and how to execute. It was on me to update consistently, shoot better photos, write more interesting stories, and design one-of-a-kind product. The technology didn’t do that for me; it couldn’t. Humans: 1 Robots: 0.
Those are the choices and maneuvers that go uncelebrated, but ultimately characterize who you are and what’s to be expected of your brand. The hard truth is that if you’re praying to the social network gods to catapult your brand (or worse, save your business), then you’ve already lost. The good news is that you don’t have to look far to find your answer. What a relief it is that despite all the marketing mumbo jumbo, all the supposed tech innovation, nothing and nobody can replace what you mean for your brand. And the best part of all is that once you express that, the Followers will come. Please ReTweet.