Seeking that social-media lightning rod

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media, uhm on June 11, 2010 at 9:48 am

One of the frustrations of social media is its apparent randomness. One blog post, Tweet, Facebook status update, etc., will provoke a wave of hits and comments while another – seemingly similar – will be virtually ignored. As a result, using social media to build your business can be like trying to get struck by lightning – over and over again.

Think about your personal social media adventures. One day you post a Facebook picture of your cute little niece with ice cream smeared all over her face, and – lightning strikes! – the crowd goes crazy. A day later, you post one of your nephew looking all Norman Rockwell-esque as he takes a bite out of his hot dog at a parade, and … nothing. Tweet about last night’s episode of The Office and – zap! – you’re the reTweet champ; a week later, Tweet out a witty remark about Michael Scott’s latest gaffe and you’re the Omega Man – all alone.

While this unpredictability is annoying in the personal social media space, it can be devastating if you’ve made social media a key part of your marketing and communications strategy. Suddenly, it’s not just a matter of personal pride that you scored an extra 50 followers on Twitter – it’s a matter of bread on the table.

So, if social media is about as reliable as getting struck by lightning, how do you achieve success? Well, to beat the metaphor to death, you find the right lightning rod, hold it up nice and high, and connect it to the right objectives and outcomes.

 And I’m going to tell you how to do that, right?

 Not exactly. I don’t think anyone’s fully uncovered that secret. But some people have found ways to improve the odds. Here are five things I’ve noticed that they do (and a few really bad weather-related analogies to make the ideas “sticky”): 

  • Track the storms. When you’re planning a picnic and the clouds turn black, what do you do? You check the weather radar so you know where the storms are headed. Granted, in real life you do that to avoid being struck by lightning; in the social media world, you do it to anticipate the next lightning strike. How? By watching social media, “listening” to what’s going on out there, assessing the opportunities and making educated guesses. Hey: You can’t do any worse than your average wacky weather guy on TV, right?
  • Chase the right storm. Where do you find the most lightning? Where there’s a storm. Where will you find the most people inclined to pay attention to your posts/Tweets/etc.? Where a relevant conversation is already taking place. Engage in other social media outlets related to the topic you’re addressing. Then hold your lightning rod up nice and high.    
  • Find the highest ground. Lightning typically jumps to the highest point in the area – at first glance, this appears to be a matter of elevation. For the sake of our already tired metaphor, though, we’ll say it’s a matter of standing out in the crowd.  Offering the same thing people can find elsewhere on the Web won’t do you much good. Sure, go where the storms are, but, then, find a way to “rise above the crowd.”
  • Go fly a kite. Not great advice in a thunderstorm, but it did work for Ben Franklin. The point? When ol’ Ben put that legendary kite in the air with a key on the string, he discovered something extraordinary in the ordinary. Social media begs for innovation, creativity and smart thinking. Put them to work and you just might end up with, uhm, shocking results.
  • Seed the clouds. As with any other media, you’ll find the most success by cultivating and maintaining an audience. This takes time and persistence. But once you bring the right “atmospheric conditions” together, you improve the odds of making lightning strike.

Certainly, adopting those five practices won’t automatically make you a lightning rod for social media success, and I don’t pretend they’re the only practices that will jolt you to the next level. On the contrary: I believe no single process will work for everyone. But I do believe adopting a strategic process is important. Without one (to torture the metaphor one last time), you’ll probably find yourself standing on a crowded hill on a sunny day, shocked by nothing more than your failure.

  1. Fickle this collective social media personality is, no? One day I wrote the perfect post that drove hundreds and hundreds of readers to my blog. Out of one hundred blogs ON EARTH, mine skyrocketed to the 4th fastest growing WordPress blog in one day. By the end of the day? Nothin’. Next post? Nada. It was comical!

  2. Well, it’s obvious, right? One day you had one of the biggest brains on the planet, and, by the next day, that had somehow seeped out of your ears and you were, once again, Just One of Us. Seriously, that’s what so weird about it: The core thinking and writing that earned you such attention one day had not diminished the next day … but, for whatever reason, lightning didn’t strike twice.

    Thanks for chiming in.

  3. Naturally, it was my giant brain that day. And also the right person reading and sharing with his contacts, who share with theirs . . . One individual was my work’s force multiplier that day, but none of my writing since has struck a chord with that one person. I think I’ll just go back to a notepad and ink pen.

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