Hashtags, Likes, Shares and the Empty Seats

Hashtags, Likes, Shares and the Empty Seats
Let’s start with an idea that you know is true, but may stress you out to think about nonetheless. It’s this:


If you’ve read anything about social media, heard any story about it on the radio, or generally not been living under a rock, inside a cave, or on a deserted island, you know this is true.

But we’re beyond it being true. What we want to address is the “powerful” part. Because that’s where we have something to add to the conversation—something we see that many organizations still aren’t grasping. Social media isn’t powerful just because it’s a giant microphone. The power doesn’t even come from the fact that these are billion dollar platforms with social reach unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. It’s not the platforms themselves that are the source of the power.

The source of the power comes from the inherent desire baked into all forms of social media, and that is the desire for human connection. That’s why social media has taken off: because people inherently want to connect to other people.

If you can work social media through the lens of connection, it will feel more natural, take on a stronger purpose, and ultimately, be a lot more fun for your association.

In case you’re not sold yet, here’s one more truth: there are too many options and ways to spend time today. The existence of your association is not nearly enough.

It won’t survive or thrive if it’s not a vehicle for connecting people.

In fact, if you want to be sustainable for the future, you need a system that doesn’t just help you connect with people, but also helps empower those people to reach out and keep making more connections.

How handy that social media exists. Honestly, it came right in time for your organization.

Clusters are Out: Micro is In

The age of social media represents a fundamental change in where power is clustered.

A better way to say it is that social media has “unclustered” power. No longer do large corporations and brands hold all the cards. We’re entering an age when individuals, especially individuals working together, can do what only big brands and corporations used to be able to do, like influence.

Your members, supporters, and fans have more power than you.

That’s not something to be feared. Rather, it’s a tremendous opportunity—if you use it effectively.

Let’s talk quickly about how NOT to use social media. First, it’s not a dumping ground for existing content. It’s also not a place to make endless sales pitches. And it’s definitely not a rinse-and-repeat, one-size-fits-all operation.

The advice we used to give (that we were passing on from the social media experts) was to pick one platform and do it well. That’s not really enough anymore. It’s not that you have to tackle every single platform out there. But you do need to develop a consistent social media voice across your platforms, and then share your best stuff, tailored to fit what that platform is truly about.

We love the advice from Gary Vaynerchuk in his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: “Stop thinking about your content as content. Think about it, rather, as micro-content—tiny, unique nuggets of information, humor, commentary, or inspiration that you reimagine every day, even every hour, as you respond to today’s culture, conversations, and current events in real time in a platform’s native language and format.”

In other words, if you are only using social media for an endless series of updates and calls to action, pushing your Facebook feed through to Twitter, or pinning images of your own brand to Pinterest, you’re missing the opportunity.

Addressing the nuances of every platform is more than we can tackle in this space. But we’d like to share a few tips about the social media platforms we know that associations are using most.

Twitter: Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me . . .

We’ll start with Twitter, because it seems to be the preferred platform for many associations.

We suspect it’s because Twitter is safe. It’s fairly easy to spin out Tweet after Tweet as tangible evidence that you are doing something regular on social media: Look, we’re Tweeting! We’re telling everyone about our event!

The problem is, with so many people talking, there is a big listening problem on Twitter. Even the most robust feed doesn’t translate into engagement if you’re not actually engaging.

This is because Twitter is less about the content itself, and more about coming up with unique takes on what’s going on—not just in your industry, but the trends at large, from world news to pop culture.

For associations, this is a great opportunity to add relevancy, engage directly with followers about the stuff they care about, and show that you have a distinct voice and place in their world.

How can you do that? First, always pay attention to what’s “trending.” Instead of Tweets that are just links to your association’s latest blog post or early-bird rate offer, pull from what’s trending and find ways to offer your own fresh take. Sometimes it’s directly related to your association. Other times, only tangentially. But that’s sort of the point. It’s a conversation, and not every Tweet is the zinger. Build interest through engagement and insight. And only then should you bother to promote anything.

Facebook: I Like You; Do You Like Me?

What Facebook has on its side is mass appeal.

But more and more, that appeal isn’t coming for free as Facebook is transforming itself into a paid advertising platform. The first thing to understand is that you probably will have to pay to be seen on Facebook now. But anyone can tell you that. Let’s talk about how to craft the right kind of Facebook posts worthy of sponsoring.

If Twitter is your take on the conversation, Facebook is the love fest of sharing: a picture-based storytelling platform. It’s visual stories, with bright, interesting, and real color commentary.

It is not:
  • Links with poor context.
  • Things that should really just be Tweets.
  • Beauty shots of your product or spreads from your magazine.

At the root, Facebook is being part of the community in a deeper way; it’s about cultivating friendships through sharing.

Most importantly for associations: it’s about exposing the human side and showing a piece of who you are.

That starts with compelling images that show something real. Something interesting. For example, one of our association clients usually gets 15 or so likes for Facebook posts. When they posted pictures of staff wearing Halloween costumes, they got 150 likes. Does that translate directly into more seats being filled at their event? No, but it’s part of a relationship-building process that does translate into that. More likes means more visibility, which can lead to more engagement, which leads back to more visibility. But it all comes from being real.

Large, good quality images that show the people-side of what your association and event is about: that’s what Facebook is for. And think carefully about the status update that goes with it. Remember your social media voice, and always offer interesting, funny, or informative commentary, with a link.

Pinterest: The Middle School Locker

This all-visual platform is a great chance to connect to your members’ and supporters’ aspirations and interests.

Pinterest is less about your brand, and more about creating a vision board around what your organization is about. It’s a chance to have fun (yes, fun is allowed). For example, perhaps you know that a lot of networking at your event happens on the coffee breaks in between sessions. You might create an entire board around the idea of “coffee breaks”: beautiful images of coffee, interesting quotes about coffee, strange collections of coffee cups . . . you get the idea.

Pinterest is all about the re-pin (which keeps original image links in tact). This means you don’t need to necessarily spend a lot of time creating your own images. Just make sure to tag your images with interesting and relevant hashtags. And, like Twitter, offer your take on the image and provide context.

Instagram: Life, Only Better

Instagram is similar to Pinterest in that it’s 100 percent visual. There is a realness about Instagram—even through the filters—that Pinterest sometimes lacks, because it’s about photography and slices of life, versus aspirational ideas.Instagram has the quality of an old-time print campaign. If Pinterest deals in products and ideas, Instagram deals in moments.

And that’s where associations can really capitalize—because events are full of Instagram-worthy moments.

In our view, Instagram will only grow in popularity, because it is so easy to story tell, and to invite others in to story tell with you (through the hash tag). Instead of the thumbs up for like, Instagram uses the heart: click it and you fill the empty heart. If that’s not a metaphor for what associations need to do, then we don’t know what is!

LinkedIn: Calling All Thought Leaders!

In Jab, Jab, Jab, Vaynerchuk says that if Facebook is the dining room where we entertain, then LinkedIn is the library, where we go for resources and to get deals done. Associations have already embraced LinkedIn, but not necessarily for what LinkedIn is becoming, which is a place where thought leaders gather and share ideas.

It’s no longer just job seekers and networking and group discussions. LinkedIn is bringing back the idea of long form copy, and they’ve been working hard to encourage content creation. Both trade and consumer brands are embracing LinkedIn (we heard an executive from Coca-Cola recently talking about all of the traction they are gaining for their Journey magazine by using LinkedIn). Take a look at what LinkedIn is doing (if you haven’t yet), because it’s an emerging opportunity for associations.

The channels of social media each represent opportunity. We know that many of them are already part of your marketing plans. Move the effort from repurposing your content and hitting your followers with an endless stream of offers and updates to creating quality micro content, meant to engage without asking anything in return.

When you approach social media that way – as a means of talk to your people in the very ways they are self-selecting – you’ll find they listen much better.

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