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A Four Letter Word That Spells Social Media Success

Bored NerdLet’s face it – most organizations’ social media efforts are lame. We like to mock them and ask, “What were they thinking?” While it’s easy to criticize, I doubt most people could actually articulate the fundamental reason why a particular effort is lame or cool. Or take it one step further – what would you change to improve it? I think it’s like watching an athletic performance; easy to criticize but difficult to do better.

But there is a very simple rule of thumb every organization can follow. It won’t guarantee success, but it will absolutely prevent lameness.  The rule can be summed up by a single, four-letter word: G-I-F-T.

If the answer is so simple, why is it so hard to execute?

When Norms Collide

I’m not talking about two guys named “Norm.”  I’m talking about two different sets of rules of thumb that determine how we behave.  Economic norms are the rules that we follow when we’re conducting business. Social norms are the rules we follow when we’re interacting on a personal level. When a particular situation clearly dictates the appropriate set of norms, it’s easy to know what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.

Mixed NormsProblems appear when those norms get mixed together and we aren’t sure which rule of thumb to use in a given situation.  The classic example of this is dating. While dating is mostly governed by social norms, there are elements of economic norms that can creep into the picture. When those situations aren’t handled delicately – like who pays the dinner check – feelings can get hurt and things can end badly.

And here’s where businesses get social media wrong. They behave according to economic norms in a situation that demands social norms. Social media is the ultimate form of democracy. Everyone gets one vote and every vote counts once. As a result, there are two coins of the realm in social media; trust and generosity.  You earn the former with the latter.  Think of it this way.  When you’re invited to someone’s house for dinner for the first time, what’s the customary behavior?  We generally bring a bottle of wine, flowers, or some other form of housewarming GIFT. Our social evolution as humans has taught us to build trust through generosity.

I Have No Gifts to Bring

I’m not buying that. But before we get into that, I think it’s time to bring Seth Godin into the conversation yet again.  In a blog post titled, “Generous gifts vs. free samples,” Godin provides his definition of what a gift is (and isn’t):

A generous gift comes with no transaction foreseen or anticipated. A gift is a gift, not the beginning of a transaction. When you see a Picasso painting at the Met, Picasso doesn’t get anything (he’s dead). Even his heirs don’t get anything. His art is a gift to anyone who sees it.

There you have it.  Your product brochures and press releases are not generous, they’re self-serving.  In other words, they’re lame. The chances are that if you’re a competent and experienced professional, you have gifts to give to people. Furthermore, most of the people who could benefit from those gifts are probably potential customers.

So before you post that next Facebook update or Tweet, look yourself in the mirror and answer the question, “Would this make someone’s day a tiny bit better, in some form or fashion?”  If you can honestly answer, “Yes,” then go ahead and pull the trigger.

Simple Does Not Mean Easy

I’ve laid out a case that it’s simple to avoid social media lameness.  However, I am certainly not saying it’s easy. In fact, I’m not even saying it’s always worth it. But it’s definitely worth considering what it will cost for you to be generous and how that trust you earn in social media will translate into your desired outcomes. Because hope is not a strategy.

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