Social media has changed the way we distribute and receive information. As Brian Solis in his book Engage! nicely says, “Monologue as given way to dialogue.” Before the digital age, we were simply receivers of content, through tools like television, radio, and print newspapers, without many ways to engage with the content creators or with other content receivers. But now, using tools like Twitter, facebook, blogs, and comment sections of news articles, we can give instant feedback to the content sources, engage in conversations around the content, and we can even create and distribute content ourselves.
This giant web of conversation can be extremely useful to a company – or detrimental to a company if they aren’t properly engaged. The conversations going on in social media can often be about a company or a company’s product/service. With or without the company, those conversations will occur. Solis explains all of this in depth, gives examples of successes and failures, and shows that when the company is engaged in the conversation, it can help control the information, create/emphasize a positive corporate image, establish relationships, and positively influence consumers.
My client for this course is Street Sense, a street newspaper devoted to raising awareness about and providing economic opportunities for homeless people. A lot of Solis’s advice and instructions aren’t extremely applicable to my client – for example, he often focuses on providing service and technical assistance for customers who bought or are buying a product. Even though customers are buying a paper, there really isn’t a place for technical assistance in the organization. Solis also frequently stresses the importance of training a bulk of a company’s employees in social media and the brand’s persona so that they may each be online advocates of the company. While this is a good idea, it is not beneficial for small organizations like Street Sense to take the time and money to train the transient interns and volunteers who make up the bulk of the workforce.
Even though the book is geared toward large companies that are selling a product, Solis’s main arguments can be applied to nonprofits (like Street Sense), small businesses, and large corporations alike. His main arguments, which are overarching and threaded throughout the book, can be summed up as such: Find where the conversations are taking place (or create them), engage in those conversations, have a human persona that is consistent with your organization’s core values, and listen Listen LISTEN. This may seem simple and common-sense, and perhaps a bit redundant, but it is vital to creating a sense of community and implementing a successful social media strategy.
“Listening offers data. Hearing offers empathy and intelligence. Activity, action, and engagement steer perspective and encourage a sense of community and advocacy.” – Solis, p. 176
Encouraging a sense of community and advocacy is exactly how Street Sense should use social media – and Solis’s overview of various social media tools and their seemingly infinite uses gave me a lot of ideas to engage the community and inspire advocacy.
Solis often discusses the usual suspects, facebook and Twitter, but he also brings up many other tools that I never thought to use for Street Sense. He gives a brief overview of FourSquare and other geo location mobile tools. What if FourSquare users could check in with their vendor when they purchase Street Sense? This would make the vendors more prominent, put Street Sense on another social media platform, and create a sense of community between vendors and buyers. Solis also talks about purpose-driven social networks – what if Street Sense used change.org to start a petition or used an Ideascale site to come up with a solution to a pressing issue covered in the paper? These ideas may not work, and I definitely don’t want to use too many platforms that would stretch the small organization thin, but they are tools to think about using.
Early in the book, Solis emphasizes that humanizing your story and creating empathy will help create conversation. He says:
“I’m a human being and so are you. Treat me as such… act as such. Alas, being human is far easier than humanizing your story. Transparency is just not enough to convince me that I need to pay attention to you. Get a little empathy going on and you’ll begin to facilitate meaningful interaction.” – p. 8
I think that Solis primarily means that your social media brand persona needs to humanize the company and get empathy from customers, but I think it also goes beyond the persona and into everything you do and the stories you tell. This is my primary goal in Street Sense’s social media strategy – to humanize homelessness.
Street Sense recently posted a video on Youtube that tries to humanize homelessness by interviewing one of their vendors, Sammy Ngatiri. You can view the video below.
It’s a good idea, but I think it’s executed wrong. Despite the poor video and sound quality, the story is not told in a way that pulls the viewer in and makes the viewer want to stick around to actually get to know Sammy. On top of this, the video does not follow Solis’s guidelines for Social Media Optimization (SMO). The video title and tags are not optimized for social media, and the video has not been syndicated or aggregated into Street Sense’s channels on Twitter or facebook. The video only has 7 views – two of those views are mine.
Solis also discusses the importance of reaching out to influencers in your community, which will be a huge help for Street Sense. If we can get local and national advocates, like Coalition for the Homeless, Eric Sheptock, and The National Coalition for Literacy who have already established authority and a following to cover Street Sense’s stories, say good things about the organization, and push out the content we will create to humanize homelessness, then we increase our reach tremendously, increase our authority and credibility, and help build a community and conversation around homeless issues.
From using the influence of high-profile bloggers to choosing correct keywords and tags for SMO to tapping into mobile geo location tools, I learned quite a bit that I can apply to my client from Solis’s book. And I’d like to end with what I think is the most important and universal statement in the book that we should never forget:
“To build a community, we have to be an active participant in it.” – Solis, p. 111