The Philosophy of Social Media: Give, don’t Take

I talk to a lot of people about how to work in the brave new world of social media. Unlike the world of Don Draper and his compatriots on Mad Men, where companies told us consumers what to think and how to talk about brands and products, we’re in an era where that paradigm has been spun 180-degrees, stood on its head, and now the message comes from the consumer and is fed back up to the business, like it or not.

I’ve been in the business for over thirty years now, and remember companies like the late great Kodak being incredibly obsessive about their logo having just the right color of orange in print ads and other companies obsessing over typefaces and whether we acknowledged their trademarks each and every time we wrote about them. 
<<yawn>>
Things have changed. Has your thinking?
To really get how to be successful in the world of social media, a world where your customer has a louder voice than you do, you have to really take something to heart, something that’s inspired by John F. Kennedy, former president of the United States and a pretty shrewd operator all around. You’ve probably heard his quote. He said:
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
In case you haven’t heard it, here, enjoy his stirring inaugural address from Jan 20, 1961:
What’s so important about this particular line in a speech? Because Kennedy totally nailed social media.
To be successful in social media, to be popular on Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc, you need to be constantly asking yourself the following:
What can I do for my customers?
Instead, too many people focus on the wrong questions, “how can I sell stuff?” or, more bluntly, “how can I get money out of your wallet?”
If you sell bicycles, for example, your blog, your Facebook fan page, should be full of handy tips that will help bicyclists save a few bucks on repairs, find out about cool new trails, learn about training tips, and even gain some smarts about teaching children how to ride. Are we selling anything here? Not yet. 
The most essential part of being successful as an online business is building trust, and you can’t do that without helping your customers be happy and successful. They’re not stupid, however, they realize that you’re a bike shop and you stay in business by selling bikes. But that doesn’t mean that every communication they get from you, every update on your fan page needs to be about a new product or service. Blech.
An anecdote to illustrate: I noticed a leak under my kitchen sink one Sunday afternoon so I pulled out the yellow pages (yes, antiquated print) and looked up plumbers. I called up one place and was immediately told about the extra emergency weekend fee associated with someone coming out to see what was going on. Okay. Another spent the time telling me how busy they were and that perhaps we could schedule someone to show up Monday morning.
The third company I called, however, had a different approach. The answering service listened to my description and asked “can I have you check a few things real quick before we schedule anyone to come out to your place?”  She then detailed a few simple diagnostics to try and one of them identified the problem — a nut had come loose and needed to be tightened — which I then fixed and solved the problem, no plumber needed. Her response: “great! glad I could help!”
My response? I circled their business in the yellow pages, with a vow to call them when I had need of a plumber in the future.
Do you see what they did? They trained their people to solve the customer’s problem not sell their services. Smart. Very smart.
In the future, that’s going to be the only way to stay in business. If you don’t think so, just watch. The companies that are all about the hard sell, the ones with the miserable reputations, like car salesmen and insurance salesmen — are going to die in the field, as more and more people savvy that there are smarter, less frustrating and insulting ways to do business. Hence powerhouse companies like Geico that advertise to get you to their Web site, not to get you to schedule someone to visit and hard sell you insurance.
If you’re doing things right, old school folk will keep asking you “why are you giving it away?” and “what does that have to do with what we’re selling?”. 
Those questions mean you’re on the right track. 
If you’re truly dedicated to a healthy, engaged dialog with your marketplace — including customers, potential customers and people who will never buy your product or service — then you’ll gain a strong reputation and will then be able to reap the benefit.
Trust me on this. And do it.

3 comments on “The Philosophy of Social Media: Give, don’t Take

  1. Yes, you are right that it applies to social networking. In fact it applies to all types of networking. People want to know how much you care about them before they will help you. It is based upon Trust. Well said, Dave.

  2. Yes, give don’t take is a great way to go into social media. But I find with a small business it is really hard to get social media off of the ground. And even harder to keep up with the demands on time that social media demands. For my company I am not sure the bottom line is better off with social media.

  3. You’re right, a fantastic blog post highlighting the importance of social media and how unfortunately many often abuse it, if we all remember to follow yours and inadvertently Mr. Kennedy’s advice, I’m sure we’ll all be fine.

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