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The Secret of Social Media


Photo credit: respres

According to B.L. Ochman, there are over 15,740 folks on Twitter who list themselves as social media experts. I’m now going to write a post about social media and you should listen to me because I’m not one of those 15,740 people.

What’s your impression of social media? When I think of a guru, I immediately imagine someone signing up for every single service to post their link bait to non-existent followers. I also think of folks experimenting with leading technology like “auto-follow on Twitter” who use that to amass a large list of reciprocal followers. Follower who rarely convert to customers and do not represent a meaningful relationships.

Now that I’ve angered 15,740 experts, I will get to the substance of this post. The secret of social media has nothing to do with signing up for a bunch of services and spamming your links. In fact, you probably don’t need to sign up for every new service. It helps if you already have a following–these services give your followers a way to connect. But if you don’t have anyone connecting with you yet, don’t bother. You should spend your efforts another way.

The secret to social media has everything to do with being social. Here are the steps:

1. Find a community.

Yes, an active community. Ideally you want to be part of a community before it explodes in growth. It’s easier to get a name in a small community and reap the benefits of being known later. However making this judgement is a lot like picking stocks.  Your effort is better spent joining a community related to what you’re passionate about. If you started a business, you’re passionate about that business area. Finding and keeping involved in a community related to that passion shouldn’t be hard. If there isn’t one, start one and nurture it.

Feedback Army was built for technology entrepreneurs. Some with small businesses, others with larger businesses. I’m very passionate about this topic. The two communities I found myself involved in are Hacker News and the Four Hour Work Week community (Dear Tim Ferris–I think you’re great). I’m involved with these communities because I’m interested in technology entrepreneurship. In fact, Feedback Army was born out of a discussion on the Hacker News website.

2. Learn the social rules and mores of that community.

If you’re going to take part in a social group you need to know the rules. Constantly breaking the rules will show you’re only out for your self-interest and you won’t benefit “socially” from this. Learning the rules also means you’ll learn what people respond to and what they ignore. Knowing this is the key to getting return value out of the community vs. getting nothing.

On the Four Hour Work Week automation forum people talk about their muse businesses. Writing a post telling people to “check out my business” or “buy my service” does not fly there. What works is asking for feedback. Writing tips about topics people are interested in and telling your story without crossing the line of selling is a good way to get exposure and potential customers from that community.

The Hacker News community is interesting as it’s big and all things considered, pretty easy to get time in the spotlight if you approach us right. I say us, because I feel like I’m a part of that community. A common series of posts are “Ask HN” where an entrepreneur poses a question for others to answer. Announcements go over so so, but writing “Ask HN–Please review my business” almost always receive due attention. News of first launches are also well received by the community. Brutally honest commentary that sparks discussion is always upvoted too. This blog post contributes to the community but I will probably see a few sales as a result too.

3. Get involved and stay involved.

Of course for people to take you seriously, you need to get involved and stay involved. This just means commenting on things and contributing to the over all discussion. We’re each beautiful snow flakes (mine is covered in army green) and have something to offer. As a bonus tip I’ll offer that you should make yourself vulnerable once in a while. I have trouble with this but I find when I’ve done it I’ve seen a strong response. If it’s honest, useful, but makes you slightly uncomfortable to post it, then it’s probably a good candidate.

I can’t measure how getting involved and staying involved has helped me in a conversion rate or $$$ sense. In fact, when I contribute–I’m not out to promote my business or put money in my pocket. By getting involved in a community and staying involved you get another benefit. You’re a part of a community. People who know you, care about you, and  celebrate your successes and console you during your failures. I’m not saying people from Hacker News will hold a vigil if something bad happens to me. I’m just saying at different times I’ve interacted with HN users in real life and when my successes came, these people were there to celebrate with me. And that has made this entrepreneurship process not so lonely.

And now… The Secret

If you find a community that you’re passionate about and learn what people will respond to then you’ve got an opportunity to promote your business. When you find that community: always remember that there is a much bigger benefit to being a part of that community than your just  businesses. So put that aside and just get involved–the rewards will come later. HN has been very good to Feedback Army.

Or as a friend once said, “I’ve found over time that the more I give, the more I end up getting back”. This my friends is the secret to social media.

Posted in business musings on February 16, 2010 | 1 Comment »

One Comment on “The Secret of Social Media”

Usability Testing Tips and Handbook – How I Market Feedback Army Says:

[...] posts where I’m most vulnerable (read: open and honest) generate the most attention. I seed relevant posts on Hacker News. It’s hit or miss but when it hits, it’s worth it. A hit blog posts also [...]

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