Is your social media being anti-social?

Wow, the din of social media is deafening. I can’t keep up with it all and I don’t think I want to. No, I’m sure this is going to get old soon and people will go back to just talking on their phones. No?

No. The reality is whatever amount of media (social or otherwise) we are able to consume, there’s always more of it out there than anyone can fathom and it’s growing minute by minute. So for brands and businesses doing social media marketing, how do you rise above the noise?

While it won’t guarantee you’ll conjure the next social phenomena, the answer is to learn to identify what makes some ideas more ripe for social buzz than others. And to recognize when your social media is being anti-social.

Social is as social does

The last time you went to an event, a party, a happy hour or a conference, was everyone standing around in silence? Of course not. In a social setting, everyone is sharing information. The more interesting the information shared, the more valuable it is to everyone. And the more likely they will repeat it. It’s the same for your social media.

And in those same social settings, you’ve no doubt met the person who talks too much about themselves. Seems interested only in what you might do for them, or how they can turn you into a customer.  And always appear desperate to find someone new to talk to. Make sure that’s not your social media.

One of Seth Godin’s TED talk begins with, “Ideas that spread, win.” He goes on to point out how normal is forgettable, and we must strive for ideas that are remarkable – causing people to talk. It’s more social (and potentially viral) when there is something to say and share. Something that’s compelling enough to tell someone else. It’s more social when it gets a reaction, starts a discussion, creates a debate, tingles, tickles or titillates.

Things go viral not because they are posted on YouTube, or announced via a Twitter feed. They go viral because people see them and think they are interesting enough to share on Facebook and re-tweet on Twitter. That’s an important difference.

Don’t create social media, cause social media to be created

Not everything can, or should, go viral. There’s a time and place for posting links to a company’s latest work, or posting bite sized bits of the same sales and marketing content that filled emails, newsletters and brochures a few traditional years ago. But those things aren’t likely to build a social wave of awareness and action. And if we’re not careful, it can become anti-social content that pushes people away.

I believe it’s more effective to use your brand (and budgets) to cause social media, than to create (or buy) social media. You’ll need to do both. But it takes more effort to come up with ideas that cause social media, than to just churn out more standard video and blog content.

So how do you identify and come up with ideas that cause social media? Start with answering these questions honestly, and being prepared to ditch ideas that don’t stand up to the test.

How shareable is it?

This may seem obvious, but for something to have a real impact through social media, it needs to fulfill one main criteriait must be remarkably shareable.

How do you know if it is remarkably shareable? Test it. Next time you have a viral social media idea, just show someone.  If they smile politely and say, “yeah, cool”, then you may want to keep thinking. If they say, “oh my gosh, I have to show that to (insert friend’s name)”, then it could be remarkably shareable.

Ok there are more scientific ways to test (and spend money), but there are usually clear cues that some ideas are more socially fruitful than others.

Jonah Berger, big time marketing author and Wharton School professor says, “There is a science behind why people share. It’s not chance, and it’s not random. If you understand the underlying science of human behavior, you can predict what people are going to pass on, and you can craft your own contagious content.”

Look at a list of emotional triggers (there a plenty online) and make sure you can check at least one, if not more, as part of your ideas. And here are some other criteria that can help us tell if there’s potential for something to be remarkably shareable.

Are you inviting people to the party? 

To cause social media requires an invitation for participation. Like throwing a party, you want people to be excited to show up and take part in the fun. In essence, you must say, please come and play with us, there’s something rewarding in it for you. Ask them to bring something, or invite another friend. There may be games or entertainment. Hopefully a surprise or two. And it should all be worth talking about. It certainly can’t be boring.


Take the Elf-yourself campaign (created by OfficeMax), which invited everyone to become an elf in a cute music video greeting card. And naturally, after you have become the star of your video, you want others to see it. And as it was shared, it naturally became an invitation for others to to join in on the fun.

Not only did this explode when it first launched, but it has become a tradition for many to return to the site and make a new video each year. And it’s longevity and massive popularity has solidified it as a pop culture icon.

Are you sharing the spotlight?

Hand in hand, businesses need customers and customers need businesses. A social interaction needs both parties engaged. So make room for opinions, leave room to start a conversation and even have a willingness to polarize in the right way. And let the light shine on the ones who join the party. Without participation, social ideas just lie there all alone.

The best social sensations tear down the barriers that divide the creators from the consumers and give consumers the power to create. Using the brand as the common thread, consumers will build a wave around it.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-1-42-11-pmThink about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, not only did the idea itself invite people to participate, but then each person who participated created new unique content and proceeded to challenge others to join the party. And the results were not only entertaining, but set new records for donations to ALS.

Did you give ’em the prize?

If there’s nothing to add, nothing to ponder, nothing that lingers and begs people to play, there is no reward for participating. Sometimes the reward is as simple as seeing someone in a chicken suit obey your every command. Thanks Burger King.

Even a humorous or touching video delivers an emotional reward for watching – and that emotional trigger drives sharing. That was the motivation behind Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches, which triggered deep emotions about women’s self-esteem. And caused it to generate almost 30 million views in the first ten days.

Emotional rewards include becoming a part of a group, being seen, feeling included and contributing to something. And of course more tangible rewards, like a special gift or upgrade, can be the best motivation. Dropbox built it’s user base by offering free storage to anyone who referred a new user. Uber, Airbnb and others have used similar rewards to grow their following.

Is it tied to your brand?

The greatest viral success does not automatically translate to brand recognition or a boost in sales. This may be the most critical criteria of all. While you may come up with a amazing social idea, if it doesn’t relate back to the brands position and promise, then it may be a flash in the pan that lacks real impact. A momentary boost in traffic won’t move consumers through the funnel.

Brands need to build off of an emotional appeal that matches their brands personality and purpose. Like all good marketing, the brand strategy sets the tone for all communications. And social ideas are no different – they must be intrinsically tied to the brands DNA.

One I love is, “Will It Blend?”, the video campaign from BlendTec, that features the founder Tom Dickson blending everything from Gummy Bears to Neodymimium Magnets. Users make suggestions, and the resulting chaos and slow-mo destruction makes for fascinating and humorous viewing and sharing. But what’s spot on is the intrinsic demonstration of a high-powered, industrial-strength blender that isn’t for the weekend daiquiri maker. Clearly this product is for a serious cook with a serious kitchen. And the “don’t do this at home” attitude comes right from the brands heart. By the way, the BlendTec sales have grown over 700% since the campaign began.

Study your history and master the craft.

Take a look at the wiki list of internet phenomena and you will see what I mean. Many of these things couldn’t be conjured on purpose, but it’s what they have in common that is important to this discussion. What we can learn is what made these things so remarkably shareable?

From cat videos, to Chuck Norris, to the Straight Outta Compton memes – what these phenomena have in common is an emotional trigger, a space for participation, a way to add your own voice (or cat video), and the reward of contributing to what happens next. The power of social is that it takes on a life of it’s own and does what it does – it spreads what is most engaging, interesting and fun. Allow it’s power to work in your favor. Allow it to give rise to a wave that you simply initiate, but don’t attempt to control.

The power of social is other people doing the talking, and much of the work of spreading the message. Give them the space and a good reason to co-create and then embrace the content that you could never produce. The content that provides a third party endorsement (the realm of “influencers”) which is proven to be the most powerful social force that turns buzz into bucks. Consumer endorsement is the king of influence now. And if it’s worth talking about, and participating in, it usually means it’s worth spending money on.  And then maybe that traditional sales pitch will come in handy.

The Takeaway

Harnessing the potential power of social media is a critical skill that we must continue to hone and develop. And understanding what makes social media “social” is how we will identify the most impactful, memorable and shareable ideas, from the those that will be easily forgotten.

While the big social media companies are trying to shed the “social” label, we should all remember that it’s the social aspect of their media that gives them an inherent advantage. Social is the key.

You can’t make viral content by formula. And you won’t hit home runs every time out. But you can become better at recognizing what works and what doesn’t, and why. You can improve your odds for success, and deliver more remarkably shareable social solutions.

Make sure your social media is “social” by checking these criteria:

  1. Is it remarkably shareable? Does it hit an emotional trigger?
  2. Does it invite participation? Can others join in?
  3. Does it leave room for opinion, mashups, additions or variations?
  4. Is it rewarding? Is there a prize for playing?
  5. Does it reinforce and match your brands DNA?

What are your most important criteria for social media success? Share your thoughts and let’s all keep learning.

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