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Don’t make a dog’s dinner out of a social network opportunity

Social media pundits rightly talk about creating conversations online. By using social media to engage with customers, clients, stakeholders, the media and the rest of the world you can begin to create something of a buzz about your business.

But the funny thing about conversations is that they tend to be about something. Conversations need a topic.

If you’re using social media for personal reasons — like meeting new people or keeping in touch with friends — then that topic can be whatever you like. What you had for lunch might be a hugely interesting topic of conversation amongst you and your friends. But unfortunately, it’s not going to attract much business.

Yes, showing that there's a real person behind the curtain is important.

But brands need more than ‘friends’, they need ‘fans’ and real fans love you for what you know and do, not what you had in your panini. So when you’re using social media for business, the ‘about' in the conversation should be at some level business related.

So how do you start a conversation about business?

You create content worth talking about. Content is the tasty stuff that people pass around in the middle of social media conversations — videos, blog posts, articles, resources, applications, cartoons on the back of a napkin — anything that will appeal to your market. In the same way that co-workers once discussed ‘must see’ TV at the watercooler they now pass around YouTube clips, blogs, posts and pictures of cats ‘hazzing cheezeburgers’.

But at the same time, no customer in their right mind wants to spend their time getting a sales pitch about your business. To paraphrase a line from a TV show that I certainly will never admit to quoting, they're just not that into you. What they are into is themselves, so the second element we need to consider is how to make our conversations about the customer and not ourselves.

It might sound counter-intuitive — conversations that are about our businesses but not about our businesses — but in reality it's pretty simple. Great brands do it all the time. They talk about what their customers are interested in and/or what problems their customers want to solve. In doing so they — sometimes explicitly but more usually by inference — position their brand as a solution.

So for businesses hoping to make social media a part of their communications strategy, the price of entry is having something interesting to say. Interesting, relevant, entertaining and insanely useful content helps spark conversations and give them a focus.

In short, while it’s possible to build a social media presence talking about your lunchtime favourites, as a business, you need great content to create a focus. Content makes your expertise, brand or even your personality tangible and sharable. And helps kickstart those conversations.

Mark Nagurski is a web content writer at www.ownbrandmedia.com and blogs about unconventional entrepreneurship at www.iddictive.com