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Building inspiration for your social media stream
2012-02-14: Embarrassingly, I appear to be slightly liked on Facebook. I'm not trying to gain a coterie of followers, but I do .. seem to post interesting stuff.
So there are those who post bits of their day, those who use Facebook as a mouthpiece for their political views, those who post funnies, some photo-sharers and the probably 90% who post next to nothing at all.
My big advantage is I'm sat at my desk all day (that's .. ALL day, and if not, I now have a fancyphone so I can post while ambulant). OK, that's not all. I also read a newspaper, books, and I have a mature newsfeed on Twitter.
That last is interesting. I have two Twitter accounts, one for business and one for myself and while I had little work I hung around in the business Twitter. Now I'm snowed under I'm hanging around in the personal account and there I've followed basically a lot of feminists and disabled people. Feminists because if I'm anything politically, that's what I am. And disabled because my partner has ME/CFS and there's a political campaign against the present government's demonising of disabled people as workshy scroungers, so I've been watching that and Occupy. There's a crossover between feminism, disability and sexual politics so I think I've followed a few transgender / androgeny campaigners too (people who don't want to say whether they are Mr or Mrs). I'll follow arty things too.
So my Twitter feed is kinda interesting. It's not your usual bunch of people. So if I look right now at my timeline I'm seeing a graph about lack of support for the changes to the NHS Tweeted by a doctor, this sort of thing "Dear Oasis, I'm pretty sure most people's heads aren't bigger than their ribcages http://yfrog.com/0tw2hdj", a bit of photography and a bit of Greek austerity shouting and hey, wow "Can anyone recommend a funding bid writing agency. We're looking 2 get funding for our series of design & tech workshops for women ;) Keri" .. err, yeah, I have a client in exactly that business. Oh and "You won't be laughing when Rick Santorum imposes Sharia law..." .. a bit of comedy.
So that's exactly what I want. Nowadays when I turn on the BBC, it's like "here's what those in power would like you think is important, and here's what to think about it all", and we try to lipsynch and guess when they'll ask "so how worried should we be?". Not as much of a turn on as it used to be, especially when since the cuts they can no longer afford to drop a reporter directly into an Athens riot. I get that from Twitter now. "Yeah, but you can't trust the source". You feel you can trust the news? It's the same filter, you ask questions and make up your mind ..
So anyway, if there's a little too much welfare reform in my timeline, I can just unfollow a few people. As new shiny things come up, I can follow those, so it adapts to my interests.
OK, here's where it gets interesting. As I browse Twitter, maybe I see twenty half interesting things and then something makes me really laugh or go "wow" or gets me wound up and .. I'll share it on Facebook.
Likewise, something, maybe one in 500 things on Facebook, might be worth me sharing on Twitter.
What did I last share on Twitter? Monkey Poet's poem Beauty's in the eye, and I need glasses, which I saw him perform at Coastival.
What am I doing here? I'm living my life and sharing the best bits. I'm curating a newsfeed about my experiences of my life, I'm sharing things I want to promote. I'm taking 100 things I experience, and pushing out the best 1. I'm filtering. I'm editing and publishing.
There's another sort of Twitter account that I follow. People like @culturevultures, @robdelaney, @UKuncut, @iso1200magazine, @bengoldacre .. they are always in my timeline, and on Facebook there's Channel4News, Wired, Wikileaks, UKUncut and DesignDautore.
These accounts must post, well, DesignDautore has 422,452 people who 'like' it and yesterday they posted 12 times getting up to 15,000 likes each time. Their habit is to post a small collection of perhaps four or five related photographs. I don't know if I can discern a business revenue model here, barring building brand awareness. It's fairly cheap to do if all the contributors contribute purely for the exposure, a sort of rolling portfolio if you like.
Along similar lines, people like UKUncut do it to raise awareness of political issues. People like Wired and Channel 4 News are doing it also to build familiarity with the brand so that you might buy the magazine or watch the programme. Rob Delaney will presumably hope he can fill a club or a stadium when he needs to.
Underneath those professional publishers are the rest of us. Some, like Nigel Ward post pretty much exclusively stories about how much hassle they are giving the local council. So I follow him for the other side of local stories. I wouldn't say I know much about him, only the face of him he chooses to show.
Everyone does this. I'm not a huge worrier about online privacy because we put on Facebook a public face. We show what we want people to see. We do this all the time. How we dress and act when round for tea at the mother in law's is different to how we are in a club or pub, at work, at breakfast, in Ibiza, at the golf club, in the doctors, at a speed dating night. We do it all the time, it's natural. So we show Facebook our Facebook face. It's not us. It's what we want Facebook to know.
So how does this all come together to form an online, social media business strategy?
The first thing is no-one's asking for any money in any of it. The value is in the awareness. Maybe, after a thousand posts, you have enough 'credit' to ask for something. A bit like Wikipedia and its fundraising campaigns. But hey, if you have 422,452 likes, if you want to sell something one time for say a tenner, you'll make a little something. But only if you've built up a huge amount of goodwill.
So here's what this is all about. I try to advise my business clients usually to begin with Twitter, because it's only 140 characters, you can do it on the fly, and you can follow anyone you like (you don't need permission or a pre-existing relationship like on Facebook or LinkedIn). So you open an account and then what? You need to post some stuff. Here's where it tends to fall over.
I say "what inspires you?" "Why do you get up in the morning?" "Where do you get your inspiration for your work?" Shockingly often I get back a blank look. So this is something people need to think about, and if you are not inspired each day, this is going to be a journey, but one thing is clear. If you're not inspired or excited by what you do, this whole social media thing isn't going to work. You do need some mojo. I don't mind helping you find it, but you have to meet me halfway. You have to want it, and you have to give it some time every day.
Here's the nub, the whole point of this blog. My sources of excitement and interest have been massaged together over a long period. When you first open your new Twitter account, you're going to be blank. What shall I post? No-one is listening? Who shall I follow?
Of course, for a professional account, you don't want to be posting about the great breakfast you just enjoyed (unless you're a chef or a restaurant critic). You have to decide what you are and put the straw bales out so you don't stray off the track. You can do that on the fly and if it's just you it's going to be about whether you feel a particular post is right. It's very, very tempting to put yourself out there. That's fine if it's yourself you're selling. Otherwise, put yourself somewhere else, and deliver a stream of useful, inspiring, interesting stuff that's going to be useful to people who might turn into potential customers or who might know people who know people. Here's a load of stuff from me about branding, maybe bookmark that and come back to it.
It happened, just then. I knew I wanted to tell you about my pile of books that I read in, err, quiet moments. I bookmark the best bits, then they end up in a pile so I can pick out one, for instance "in preparing a speech, ask 'how will this audience be changed by my speech?', shoot for the speaker's highest goal: convince your audience to initiate or follow some concrete action as a result of your speech". So, that could be a tweet to my audience of people who are interested in marketing, and I just stole it from a book on my 'inspiration pile'. Incidentally, in less than a minute, I just took a photograph of my 'inspiration pile' and posted it to my Facebook account using my snazzy Android phone because it looks not like an inspiration pile, but like a pile of paper in the untouched house of someone who died ten years ago. If the sun was up, you'd see cobwebs. There's a little humour in there. Self deprecation often disarms those who think you're a tosspot. But .. in that moment that took less than a minute, I got an idea and posted it up. So these things can take just a very little time.
Anyway, in the early days of your stream, you'll have to work out whether posting a picture of your cobwebby inspiration pile is right for you. If you're the prime minister, no. If you're an efficiency expert or business leader, no. The reason it works for me is I'm off-centre. I work inside people's heads. I'm a kind of marketing psychologist, I know what people are really thinking ("this salesman's a wanker", "I'm NOT eating there", "I've never tried that, I don't want to commit to a whole .. "). So I'm not trying to sell myself as a perfect machine. I'm human, that's the point. However, for anyone who delves, they can see that there are some properly great books in there and a whole lot of magazines and newspapers, so you can see that I'm alive all the time, bringing in ideas from all over the place. So that pic, it gives people who don't believe, an opt-out. See ya. For those who want to stay, there are loads of reasons in that pic to stay. I didn't intend it as a fork in the road, but thinking about it now, I'm OK with that. You can see, though, there are lots of reasons that pic as a piece of content in my feed is right, and loads of reasons it's not. I've posted it to my Facebook friends, because that's about me. I've not posted it to my business Twitter feed because on that, I want to post useful stuff. LinkedIn? Definitely not. They'll want me in a suit. My personal Twitter .. maybe, but I'm not sure they'll care. In the time it just took me to write that, I've had three 'likes' and two comments on my pic.
I work with a company that makes luxury packaging for perfumes, cosmetics and clothes designers. So creating a stream of design inspiration would bring interest and traffic to their website. A company who helps you win bids and tenders could and should be delivering hints and tips and news every day else, what's their mission again? A toy shop trawling the world for the best 'wow' toys to sell .. that's easy, right?
It's not easy. It sticks on a few things. "Where do I start to get inspiration from?" and "where do I get the time to do this?" and "this doesn't feel like it will make money".
The point of this blog was to talk about the inspiration and the fact that I'm getting a smidgeon of popularity in Facebook partly because I've curated a mature set of inputs that provide inspiration each day. If I see 100 things and retweet one, I've filtered for my followers. I'm curating, selecting only the best.
As for "where do I get the time to do this?" First of all, that pic I put up, it took less than a minute. Secondly, to do what? To talk to your customers? To reach out and make a difference? To sell yourself and your business? To stand for something? To make your mark? To get noticed? Why, what else are you doing that more neatly fits your mission?
Will it make any money? When you've got 422,452 'likes' you can make money. For the luxury packaging company, maybe you'll only ever get 500 followers, but those are people who commission packaging all the time and Twitter's an informal place where it's easy to start a relationship and build it slowly. And for your customer who uses Twitter, which will they go with, you or your competitor, if one uses Twitter and the other doesn't? Maybe they won't even know about you if you don't.
So, start with a list of your sources of inspiration. Take a while to think. Really. Don't just breathe once and go "oh yeah, thought about that" .. note down today as you go through your work all the sources of inspiration that you come across you could use. Remember too that what's routine for you is new and exciting for everyone else. What does it add up to? An interesting stream?
Once you get into Twitter, you'll find people who inspire you. So those will be sources. Same on Facebook.
What about forums, either standalone or on LinkedIn. Put into Google "ice cream forum" or whatever your business is. Even if you don't participate (which can take a bit of effort), you can trawl them for questions.
Whenever you speak with a client, set off a separate mental process that watches your whole interaction for their questions. What are your customers' concerns? What do they ask? No, really, don't go to your mental summary, watch your interactions and farm them for customer questions you can answer.
If you run a website and particularly if you have a lot of traffic, check every week or month what search terms people have used to find you. Do they inspire anything? What if you search among them for question words: who, what, why, when, where, how. For R V Roger, plant nursery I don't think I'll be ruining their lives if I reveal (in return for that link) "how good is herbert blueberry", and "Where can i find achimenes bulbs?" (answer, here) were recent questions people searched on. OK, they are not the most inspiring of questions, but they are real and because this client's business is seasonal, it might prompt them/us/me to write a blog/tweet about blueberries and achimenes since obviously people are out looking for those right now.
Another source to open up to is, in the broadest sense, art. Art is all about challenge and making people stop and think or experience. It's about being human. It's emotional. As a business, you need emotion. Art and business are natural bedfellows so try to work out how you can collaborate with local or special interest artists in all sorts of fields. Here's Mastercard trying to add some 'street cred' to their otherwise soul-free offering. Here's Susie Orbach, writer, psychotherapist, and social critic .. she co-originated the Dove Real Beauty campaign. Can't get the footage you need? Make a puppet show. Got a building? Here are (on the face of it) a couple of musicians wanting to hook onto Rob Delaney's 324,000 Twitter followers (he talks about how he got that many, here). That Reebok logo didn't get there by accident. And remember, you're either going forwards or you're going backwards < < what amazing, amazing storytelling.
It could be, of course, that you're not writing about the expertise that you sell, at all. I live in Scarborough, which is a UK seaside town popular nowadays with day trippers and weekenders. When I'm marketing B&Bs, we're not going to get far talking about how we've just made the beds. But the people we want to talk to are interested in Scarborough, so we need to create interest around that which is fairly easy because we live here, and our potential clients don't, so we've a headstart.
Anyway, the whole point about this blog is that you can't just hit the ground running. All these sources need discovering and cultivating. You need to get into a rhythm so doing this fits your day. It's a constantly improving situation and of course, the main pleasure comes at the end. If you work for a year and get 1,000 followers you're going to feel OK but it might be hard to justify to the accountant. If you are doing a good job though, that 1,000 will retweet you and multiply your efforts, so perhaps by the end of the next year you might have 5,000 followers. After five years, if you had 100,000 followers would that be good? Useful? So the payback comes after you've paid in, day after day after day after day after day. I'm not suggesting, btw, that 'number of followers' is a great measure of anything. Perhaps it is for Rob Delaney, but you could be very successful if you just have ten followers, but they are the right ten.
The take home message is: start with Twitter, start very gently and get sorted with your branding so you know what's right and wrong to tweet. Look for inspiration and build up your sources, then build up your twitter stream so you start to get followers, reactions and interactions. In due course, you can build up your tweets into full blogs, videos, or whatever, but I've written quite enough. What I wanted to do today was get people over the inspiration hump. Did I manage it?
(If you can stand it, here's a follow-up blog. It's a little more practical.)

By John Allsopp
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