Magic Tricks for Social Media Strategists (or: “stop being a such a strategist, damnit”)

It’s cool. I understand. You got here through a different door. You haven’t been blogging since before blogs were invented, Facebook didn’t demand that you use a .edu email address when you signed up, and you weren’t on Twitter when the “@” convention was just something people added cuz it felt right. You’re newer than that. And that’s totally okay — there’s room here for you, too.

And I know you’re one of the good ones. You’re not a spammer. You’ve been doing your homework — watching how it works around here, learning a few tricks, testing them out, and realizing this internet community-building stuff is pretty freaking neat. You can get a big audience for free, just by being in the right place at the right time and sounding like you know what you’re talking about. You can connect with people you didn’t know how to reach before. You can get good free advice whenever you want, and pull in free contributions to your work from lots of people. You can be famous. You can sell things. You can work from anywhere. You can change the world.

It’s true. But let’s talk about a few things.

The way I see it, there are two major problems people can crash into with social media marketing:

Problem #1: Being really good at the strategy stuff, but missing the importance of sincere relationships.

Problem #2: Being really good at sincere relationships, but missing the importance of strategy.

Those of us who grew up around here are often prone to the second problem. We don’t like to admit it, but we honestly do believe that relationships will conquer all and strategy is just an outsider’s rationalization for magic. It’s okay. We know we’re delusional. We’re working through it together on Twitter.

You, my friend, are in a different boat. You’re not coming at this with ten years’ worth of internet strangers being your cheerleaders, so your Achilles’ heel is in Problem #1. You’ve figured out how to establish a reliable presence or get a spike of attention, but it’s from carefully calculated moves — not instinctive exploration. You’re the kind of person who stops to think about it.

Believe me, we have a lot to learn from you. Please keep explaining to us how this stuff we call “magic” actually works — it’s very useful for us. But let’s also let it stay magical. Please? We like the magic.

Here’s how we’d like you to do that… in as strategy-like terms as I can put it:

Be human.

Here’s an exercise: brainstorm a list of 20 words you want people to think of when they think of you. Funny? Interesting? Trustworthy? Go on… come up with a lot. Now do two things:

1) make sure that EVERY SINGLE THING you put out to the world supports that lovable, human image that you have of yourself.

2) make sure whatever you say is put into words that you would actually say out loud to another human being in person.

If it doesn’t pass those tests, don’t write it.

This also applies to system-generated messages, like letting Youtube tweet everytime you favorite something. That’s not human. Knock it off.

Don’t litter.

If you’re writing something that’s not meaningful or valuable to the people around you, you’re littering. If you’re promoting something that’s not awesome, you’re littering. If you’re reposting a press release without adding your own two cents for why this is worth paying attention to, you’re littering.

No one likes to wade through your trash, even if it does give you an attention bump for a minute. It’s not worth it.

Only ride the waves that are meant for you.

Sometimes you can see an opportunity — a thing that’s getting attention — and you’ll want to jump in on it. Before you do that, please make sure it’s your wave to ride. Does it fit what you’re into? Is it something you feel strongly about? Does it match your lovable, human image of yourself? Does it make sense in your life? Is it carrying you in the directions you want to go? If yes — ride it. If not, then step back, and be a good audience member. It’s time to let someone else rock the spotlight.

Give give give give give give give.

And don’t ask. Okay, you can ask a little, but keep it to stuff that people will be excited to help with. Cuz then it’s still giving. Give give give. And don’t complain, either. Celebrate. Look for the good stuff, applaud the success of others, offer your support, include people in neat things, and be there for people. And keep doing that. And don’t stop. And don’t expect anything in return. Make everything sincere and generous, and engage people in your stuff by making it about them. Really. Not in an underhanded “i’m gonna get something out of this way,” but in a “yes, i can really make your life better” way. Do that.

And I hesitate to say this, because I know it’s what your strategy mind is hoping for, but yes, that’s when it will really start to pay off.

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