Being great in social doesn't mean talking a lot. It means talking at the right time.
The problem, though, is that social is "always on." We often confuse that with "always talk."
And that's how we become that person, that brand. Jay Z puts it perfectly in "99 Problems": "You know the type, loud as a motorbike. But wouldn't bust a grape in a fruit fight."
Translation: talk is cheap.
But knowing volume doesn't equal value is foundational. The next step is where great social brands distinguish themselves from average ones. Average brands focus solely on what, when, and where to post. Great brands do all that, but focus on the negative space, too: what, when, and where to say nothing at all.
And that, perhaps, is the most overlooked weapon in the social marketer's arsenal: silence.
Read on for five times when being silent is the best move you can make.
In a digital world, the line between news and noise is extremely thin. Social straddles the fence between meaningful and meaningless. It's our job as social marketers to be able to sift through all that content and make sure what we share actually delivers value.
The truth is that no brand, no matter how awesome, is that interesting all the time. So don't feel like you have to be.
For example, imagine you're at a party. We've all been there, with that one person who literally will not stop talking about himself. It doesn't matter whether you listen passively or try to change the subject; the conversation inevitably steers back to that person's exploits and opinions. At some point, you just tune out. It's no different in social. Just because you have a ready audience doesn't give you a license to talk only about yourself. Look at your posts: are they heavily skewed toward your own products or content? Or do you participate in the larger community surrounding your industry and customers?
Go a step further: map your engagement and conversion metrics against the frequency of "me-focused" and "other-focused" posts. If the overwhelming majority of your posts are about you, that's a cue it might be time for a bit of social silence.
That means the majority of brands are making one of two mistakes: not measuring social at all, or measuring the wrong things. What "measuring the right things" means will vary by brand and campaign, but the most crippling measurement mistakes are pretty consistent: optimizing to clicks over conversions, overvaluing share-of-voice, and a fundamental inability to articulate social's contribution to the sales pipeline.
Notice that none of these mistakes refer to a brand's ability to produce content or generally be active on social. That's because social busyness isn't an indicator of success. In fact, it can actually be a red flag screaming for a brand to check itself, because lack of measurement is the number one reason social fails. It doesn't matter how prolific you are at creating content or posting around the clock. Unless you know how social is delivering concrete value to your marketing organization, you're wasting money and effort.
Elite social brands know the purpose of each tweet, post, and share. They drive toward a clearly stated objective. They understand each KPI and metric. They're armed with clear baselines and definitions of success. But none of that happens without measurement. Start there, or stop talking.
These fears are often overblown, if not misplaced altogether. Sure, someone might notice. But the reasons for why we care about that in the first place aren't that valid. Don't post just because you think you have to. Long-term, overactivity translates to inefficiency. You might get a few more retweets or clicks, but more likely you'll fatigue your followers and worse, create a culture where social activity replaces social achievement.
Remember, users approach social as unique individuals - personalities, quirks, and all - and not solely as corporate personas. Thus, they respond most when something resonates with them on a personal level, not just a professional one. And that only happens when you, as a brand, communicate what resonates with you. If your social media isn't at a place yet where it can capture and convey your brand's voice, story, and passions, then consider a calculated pause. Or at least reevaluate what and how you post.
So, What Do You Do Now?
Social silence is not apathy or laziness. Social silence is intentional. It's strategic. And it can make a significant impact.
But ultimately, knowing where, when, and how often to post - and when not to - comes back to what it means to be a genuinely authentic brand. That requires work from both an executive and practitioner level.
Executives, empower your social media managers to inject energy, personality, and humanity into your presence. Remember that it's impossible to completely remove the personality of those managers from the personality of your brand. But that's not something to fear. Use this as an opportunity, and push your team to strategically define and own what an authentic brand looks like - both in terms of what you say, and when you opt for a break.
Social media managers, nobody knows better than you how much you represent the brand. Often, there's no more than a "publish now" button between your brand and the world; that's an enormous responsibility. So be smart, but be you. Use a tone that's natural to you. Don't force frequency. And don't forget your real-life social skills - when to speak up, and when it's better to let conversation pass.
In the end, a brand's social flourishes most when its cadence and content are driven by genuine interests and insights, not mandates or routines. You can talk for days, but you can't fake real, and real is what it takes to be great.
Image on home page via Shutterstock.
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John Lee is Manager, Brand and Social Marketing at Webtrends. In 2012, he was recognized by PR Daily for creating both the year's "Best Branding Campaign" and "Event of the Year." Follow him on Twitter @lee_john.
March 19, 2014