Social media and the forgotten business opportunity

social media changes

I was lucky to start my social media journey when people were still trying to figure things out. It was a quiet place focused on people and relationships … almost to a fault. The pioneers in this space were radically anti-company, anti-advertising, and anti-measurement. I can remember one Chris Brogan rant in particular when he literally yelled at a corporate audience “This is not about your stupid company.”

Today, it is nearly ALL about your stupid company. The social web is like a carnival midway with shrill hucksters barking at you to come over to their stand.

And here is what most people have forgotten — Business has always been built on relationships, not people yelling at you. Social media used to be an extraordinary opportunity to build those relationships. And, it still can be.

I’d like for you to think about something … Are you treating people differently online versus offline? Aren’t people still people, no matter where we meet them? Here are a couple of digital “best practices” I’d like you to re-consider:

The pop-up ad on your blog

What would happen if somebody came into your store and you would not let them in unless they signed up for a newsletter? You’d lose a lot of business right?  If you wouldn’t do it in real life, why would you do it online?

The pitch

What would you think about a person who came up to you at a networking meeting and introduced herself this way: “I have never met you before and you don’t know who I am or what my company does, but I really want you to feature my product on your blog.”

Wouldn’t that be bizarre? And yet, I get emails exactly like this every single day! What makes people think this is any way to build a relationship that leads to business benefits?

The opt-in

Research shows that more than 90 percent of your customers drop out if you ask for an email address before giving away your content. If you want to help people, help people. Don’t ask for a favor first. We wouldn’t do that in real life, right?

Spamming for help

The other day I had a fellow get upset because I would not take the time to vote for him in an online Facebook contest. Before his request, I had never heard of this person before. He was upset because I would not support a stranger asking for help. I told him that he was not asking for help. He was asking me to participate in a contest. There’s a difference. He agreed that he would not have asked me to do this normally but countered that Facebook is not real life. Ummm. Yes, it is.

People are people.

Facebook Follies

In real life, would somebody come up to you at a dinner party and ask, “What’s your favorite kind of jelly?” or “What was the first thing you did this morning?” But these are common Facebook interaction techniques, aren’t they?

Folks, are you really interested in the fact that the first thing I do in the morning is scratch my ass? Can’t you do better than that?

Twitter Un-done

I really like author Guy Kawasaki. He is a smart, interesting person and very friendly in real life. Yet on Twitter, his presence is defined by a team of tweeters creating a dizzying stream of content about the sex life of zebras and mysteries of the lost sock. I had an opportunity to ask him why he does this, and he replied: “Do you see how many Twitter followers I have?”

I’m not sure I completely understand this answer but I have a hunch that he has single-handedly created the worst example of how to build business relationships on Twitter.  His “conversation” is random, annoying, and always one-way. Would you make friends with a person like that? Yet, many copy his example.

I could go on and on but I’ll spare you. I hope you’re getting the point by now. Social media is an extraordinary, historically important opportunity to create real relationships that lead to business opportunities. But we have to treat people like people or it probably won’t work. Your online presence needs to be consistent with offline human relations skills. People are people. Treat them with respect wherever you are.

Isn’t that just common sense?

Illustration courtesy of BigStock.

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