Thoughts From The Cloud: Content Curation and Modern Day Politics
Last week I decided that I was going to start writing a weekly column to go along with the regular blog content we publish. I did this for a couple of reasons: first, I clearly don’t have enough to do, so I’ve given myself another job and secondly, it adds to our collection of content for the Eye of the Storm blog, our upcoming social media launch and our newsletter, Eye of the Storm Quarterly.
More content, more flavors, more readers, right? Shh. Let’s go with that.
Today, a friend of mine was asking whether she should stop interacting with certain people on social media because it always goes pretty far south. No surprise, the most troublesome posts had some kind of political flavor. That got me thinking, it’s not that unusual to see highly inappropriate content served up by companies like yours and mine when they’re trying to figure out how to do social. I thought maybe we could talk about that this week.
Remember: Your Business is Not a Person
The most important thing you can take from this blog is that your company, no matter how many friends it has on Facebook, is not a person. It’s a company that serves, presumably, the public. That means that when you engage in social media as your company, you have to approach the whole thing differently. Instead of putting your local representatives on blast, for example, you might share a story from the Washington Post that’s fair and balanced. This article has to be of interest to your audience, whoever that is, and something that will spark civil discussion.
The key to social media is being social. As a business, your much more important goal is to make people feel good when they think about you. If you’re always presenting a contentious, angry, or aggressive front, you will absolutely lose more than you’ll gain. See, Facebook and Instagram and all of those places, they’re more like little enormous neighborhoods than they aren’t. People meet new friends all the time, they’re introduced to potential spouses through friends of friends, they share their lives with one another, they help when help is needed.
Where I come from, this is called “being neighborly.”
The Art of Being Neighborly in a Digital Age
You may not be aware, but I am a native of the Missouri Ozarks. There’s not a lot there that’s notable, I think either Tracker Marine or Bass Pro Shops is our biggest export. Branson, Missouri, is our sad and embarrassing tourist trap. Until the mid-90s, when the Internet came, we were incredibly insular and not much changed — ever. Despite our overall backwardness as a subculture, I think I learned some pretty valuable lessons growing up.
One of the most important, one that was extremely important in making the harsh region livable when our forefathers decided to settle, was the art of being neighborly. This is kind of a basic concept if you think about it, but when you live in a place that’s practically wilderness, miles and miles from any sort of town or even a gas station, it can mean the difference between life and death. For our purposes, we’re going to assume that you’re not going to die without a good neighbor, though.
The art of being neighborly is, deep down, a way to get along with everyone around you. Some people will tell you that this means we Ozarkians are disingenuine. We’re not. We do mean what we say, but we may not ever tell you how we feel about religion or politics so as to not rock the boat. Those are things you keep to yourself and your closest confederates. The same rule should apply to most business social media campaigns.
Sure, if you’re running for office or you sell patriotic office supplies it could pay off to share inflammatory political posts, but for the average service provider, manufacturer or retailer, you’re better off sticking to content that’s about your line of work, your industry as a whole or your community. An example: “Hey, the high school Panthers won last night against our rivals the high school Horny Toads. WOO! Go Panthers! How many of you were at the game last night? What was your favorite moment?”
Those Horny Toads are going down in the championship, I’m just sayin’.
The content you choose, and sometimes more importantly, the content you don’t choose, says a lot about your business in this digital world. And the worst part is that there’s a record that will hang around a while, no matter what it is you’re talking about. This isn’t your Granny’s party line, where the rumors and conjecture exist just long enough for something new to get the gossip going in a different direction, it’s a massive database where information often lives forever.
Getting Social Media Content Right
Depending on the sector and niche of a particular client, even I sometimes struggle with content curation. A particular doggy daycare in New England is giving me fits right now, for example. But as hard as it can be for me to find the right content for the audience that my client wants to cultivate, it can be significantly harder for a business owner. It’s not because you can’t do it or you lack some kind of magical training, it’s because of how close you are to your business.
You and your business, me and In The Cloud, we’re the same. How you feel about the latest legislation is going to affect your social media content, even when you’re trying to remain neutral. Because of those feelings, you’re going to be reading certain publications, you’ll be taking certain opinions more seriously than others, you’ll consume and believe things that aren’t totally safe for Sunday dinner with all the cousins. And that’s totally normal, but it’s also why we (you and I both) have to be more aware of how neighborly we’re being.
Sure, there are plenty of people out there to buy what we’re selling, but that’s kind of a bad attitude. Being in the service industry means to serve, whether you’re developing advertising for a client or repairing a broken dishwasher. Too many people get this part wrong and end up either destroying their social media efforts or abandoning them because no one is responding.
Instead of getting sucked into that black hole of despair and wasted efforts, let’s start out right. I have a few tips for being more neighborly on social media and still getting plenty of response.
#1. Know your audience. This may seem like a piece of cake, but there are so many businesses that have no real idea of who their existing client base is, nor what their ideal audience looks like. That’s where data and analytics can help a lot. From Facebook data, for example, you can extrapolate plenty about likely customers. Age, income levels, family size, whether or not they like frozen vegetables — there’s so much data to be had, even post-Cambridge Analytica. Use this information to better understand who needs your product or service and you’ll be able to create content they’ll appreciate or benefit from.
#2. Don’t go too generic. It’s important to not stir the pot for the sake of pot stirring. I’d give you an example, but it would stir the pot…. instead, I’ll just say that you should choose minor issues to quibble over. There are trade tensions between the US, Canada and Mexico right now — but this isn’t the place to talk about NAFTA unless it directly relates to your company. Instead, maybe you should share an article about a new EPA ruling on how to dispose of latex paint (I made this up, no idea if there is one) and ask for opinions. Always ask questions that go beyond a yes or a no for the best engagement.
Example: “The EPA just ruled that latex paint should now be disposed of by drying the entire can and then setting it on fire. What do you think about this? What are your experiences with latex paint disposal?”
And remember, you’re a business, not a person, so you don’t really have an opinion beyond the influence that you the owner exert through content selection and presentation. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a powerful influence, but it’s different than having a direct and clear opinion.
#3. Back to the data. Every post is an opportunity to learn and make corrections to your approach. Turns out that your latex paint post didn’t get a lot of engagement, but another post about how to repaint pool bottoms did. It also happens that a share about the latest OSHA regs didn’t hit home, but a piece on the influence of paint colors on mood from Psychology Today was wildly popular. If all of your data is pointing this direction, it may be that you’ll do much better with more informative articles, rather than those about regulatory issues. You can also start to craft a content strategy from this data and build your own original content that has the potential to go viral.
It all comes back to being a trustworthy digital neighborhood business. Go share all the most frustrating and infuriating stuff with your friends, with very tightly controlled privacy settings, but remember that when you log into your company’s social media, you’re not just representing yourself, you’re standing up for the whole business. And that business isn’t a person, it’s a company that wants to get to know the locals.
I’m turning on Disqus in the next few days, so please feel free to leave a comment about this blog. I’m happy to answer any questions about content curation or share the latest about the Panthers’ athletic performance.