Social media: The 21st century house party

Social media: The 21st century house party
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Nowadays most brands understand the correlation between engagement and success. You can’t throw a smartphone without hitting a digital evangelist or self-professed ‘social media guru’.

Yet still so many marketers dive in head first without any idea what they’re actually doing or how it will affect their brand. Perhaps the simplest way of understanding social media marketing is by comparison with the humble house party.

It’s easy to get swept away by buzzwords and ‘ego-metrics’ without really understanding what social media is or how real people behave in this space. Everyone else is doing it: ‘This hipster looking kid with a tee shirt under his blazer told me that people who like lol-cats on Facebook are a highly engaged market.’

But social media is not a market, it’s where people go to get away from marketing. It’s about people coming together to share ideas and experiences. Likewise, parties are where people congregate to socialize and meet other like-minded folk, where people go to be silly and laugh together, where people gossip and exchange stories. Not so long ago, parties were where people went to escape their jobs, their kids, their mortgages and whatever other admin was boring them.

Now we login to Facebook to escape reality and connect with friends. We turn to Twitter to find out the latest news or hottest gossip. And, we switch on Google+ when we want to… ahhh… ummm?…

Anyway, this is where we congregate now and the primary rule of life still applies: don’t be a dick.

Below are a few other parallels between successful party attendance and social media marketing that, when observed, can help brands boost their social status.

1. Do some research

Nobody goes trundling along to a party without first trying to find out who’s going to be there and whether drinks and nibbles will be supplied. Find out where the people you want to talk to are, and what it is they’re talking about. There are plenty of great social listening tools out there, like Radian6 or Buzz Numbers. Use these to eavesdrop on conversations already happening so you’re prepared when you join them.

2. Listen more than you talk
You don’t want to be that self-obsessed chick that injects herself into every conversation just to tell everyone how great she is. Your loyalist followers might want to know what you’ve been up to, but most party-goers don’t give a hoot. Ask questions and let people talk about themselves. You’ll gain valuable insight into the thoughts and feelings of your target market. But be warned, asking questions about yourself is still talking about yourself. Be the girl people want to talk to, not the girl asking ‘does everyone like my outfit?’.

3. When you do talk, be interesting

It seems obvious, but for some reason most marketers think the world will enjoy the sound of their voice, no matter what they say. Nobody likes being stuck talking to that guy at the party who’s devoid of interests, people skills and personality. You need to be able to tell a good story and you need to be able to make people laugh. Otherwise the only people talking to you will be the desperate and socially challenged. On the up-side Condescending Corporate Brand Page might make you famous.

4. Take the initiative.

Be a problem solver. Everyone loves the guy who figures out how to tap the keg a lot more than the ten guys standing around waiting for someone else to do it. Listen to what people are complaining about and try and find a solution. If your solution is valid and useful to the majority, people will share it with their friends. And, just like that, everyone wants to know you, you’re an instant celebrity for the night.

5. Focus on the cool kids

It’s not worth spending all night trying to get the shy guy in the corner to like you. If you impress the rock star in the room, more people will be listening when he says good things about you. Identify influential people in the social media circles you’re interested in, find out as much as you can about them, and impress them with content that’s interesting and relevant to them. Leveraging the social status of others is just as important in social media as it is at a party, if not more.

6. Don’t pick fights

If someone wants to challenge you, be the bigger man. The internet is filled with trolls and disgruntled customers and sooner or later one of them will get you in their sights. Much like a thug at a party, there are no hard and fast rules for dealing with these people. The best thing to do is swallow your pride, apologise and try and reason with them. But think before you speak. You don’t want to end up in an eleven-inch sub debacle. And remember, if things get really nasty you can always report them to the site’s administrator… or tell your mum.

7. Don’t be a salesman

Being given a hard sell by someone you follow online is the equivalent of your best mate whipping out his Amway catalogue over a beer. Don’t interrupt people to sell them something. It doesn’t work at a party and it wont work online. And, if you are going to interrupt someone’s fun, make sure its something they’re interested in, not a shameless sales pitch. ‘Guys, just a heads up. The free booze has almost run out’.

8. Don’t beg for likes or shares

It’s desperate and pathetic. It’s the equivalent of saying “Hey, do you mind telling all your friends over there how cool I am?” A few might take the bait, but they’re the bottom feeders of the party anyway. So when they tell everyone how great you are, it’s probably going to make you look more a loser than a hero. Focus on telling great stories and impressing people. Compelling content will be liked, retweeted and shared without your instruction.

There are plenty of parallels between social media and house parties but these are a good place to start. Marketing in this bold new media is all about people. Real people, not Facebook accounts or Twitter handles. So just remember the golden rule: Don’t be a dick. Other than that, just try to have fun and enjoy your night.

Craig Baker is a digital strategist  at OBM Melbourne.

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