A few years ago I talked to a company that believed they had figured out how to get ahead with social media. This company could see that (at the time) everyone was starting to use Twitter, so they wanted to hire a ‘Twitter expert’, someone that knew how to use Twitter, who could also train their team on using Twitter so the entire company could be up to speed with using this one tool.
I replied with “Ok, so you’ll spend say 3 months with the hiring process and selecting and qualifying the candidates and hiring the right one. Then that ‘Twitter expert’ will spend another 3 months training your staff so that 6 months from now, your team will be ready to start using Twitter effectively. So what happens when 6 months from now, Twitter is no longer the ‘hot site’, and there’s a new cool tool and you’re back behind the 8-ball? Do you then fire the ‘Twitter expert’ and hire a new expert for this new cool site? Your best bet is to stop chasing the tools and start investing your time in learning how your customers are actually using these tools.’
This is what you need to do as well. So much time is spent by companies chasing tools and trying to understand how to use the tools effectively. This is putting the cart before the horse. You don’t need to understand how to use Pinterest, you need to understand what activities your current and potential customers are engaging in on Pinterest and why. Understanding the behavior of your customers using social media is far more important than understanding the social media tools they use.
For example, I spend a lot of time watching the stats on sharing around the content I share. I spend a lot of time promoting my content on Twitter, and I know that the average post here currently gets about 40-60 retweets. But over the last month, these two posts got over 200 retweets each:
So when I see certain posts like these get shared far more than others, I try to understand why people thought this content was useful, so I can replicate that with future content I create. I look at these two posts and I make a list of what I think ‘worked’ for people with these two posts:
1 – Both posts had a very specific headline. You know exactly what each post will be about and that’s key because when you share posts on Twitter, your post’s headline is competing with all the other content that everyone else that they follow is sharing. I just went to my Twitter home feed and saw these 3 new tweets come in:
Which tweet did you look at? I bet you went straight to the tweet with the purdy pictures and ignored the first two, right? The tweet with the picture earned your attention so you skipped over the first two tweets. This is the point, you literally only have a couple of seconds to earn the attention of your followers, so that headline is crucial. You have to tell people exactly what they are getting and make it interesting to them. I actually changed the headline of this post to try to make it more interesting and relevant to people on Twitter. Originally the headline was going to be Don’t Focus on the (Social Media) Tools, Focus on the People Using the Tools. That headline sort of summarizes the post, and as I stated in the guide to writing awesome blog posts above, you shouldn’t do that with your headlines. Which is why I changed the headline to be more specific, and I’ll be interested to see how many retweets and shares this post gets.
2 – Both posts addressed an exact need. The first post on stats was a goldmine of stats about specific social media tools and usage in general. This information is great for several different audiences: The guy or gal in the office that wants to convince their boss that they need to start using social media, the speaker that needs some great stats to add to their social media presentation or simply anyone that wants to self-educate when it comes to social media usage patterns.
The second post was a very specific How-To. It was also a very detailed post that specific step-by-step instructions on how to solve a particular content-creation problem (creating awesome blog posts). In fact if you read that post, you can hopefully see that I applied some of my own advice with that post, in writing this one.
BTW note that with both these examples, I’m trying to figure out how to get more retweets for my content on Twitter, but I’m doing so by trying to understand why people shared this content. I’m not trying to figure out some ‘trick’ I can use on Twitter to get more retweets or some phrase to add in the tweet (like ‘Please RT!). I’m far more interested in understanding customer behavior. Why did people share these posts? What made the content useful to them? What did I do to earn their attention in those 2-3 seconds I had? Because if I understand why this type of content was useful to others, then I can apply that understanding to all the content I create here from this point forward.
Don’t focus your time on understanding how to use social media. Invest in first understanding how your customers use social media.