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How to Become a Social Media Star

Updated on August 2, 2015
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I like examples. I learn by example, and I teach by example. That's why principles of servant leadership get me so fired up. (But I also digress.) Sure, I could preach at you all day long about what I think about what you should be doing, but I'd rather just show you what has worked for me and what has worked for other people I know. So what works when it comes to using social media to build an online platform?

You probably know one or two examples of the type of people who make efforts to remain open, accessible, and approachable online. They interact one-on-one with their fans and at large with their audiences. They are active and responsive and appreciative. And they're real. They answer their own email. They don't have PR stunt people doing their social media for them. They have relationships with their readers because they let their readers get to them.

I've mentioned before that I gain a lot of my best inspiration about promotion from fields that have nothing to do with promotion. For instance, I've learned a lot about audience development and engagement strategies from the association management field. Maintaining an active, interested association membership is a lot like maintaining an active, interested online audience. If, say, you're an author with a book to sell, chances are, you might be looking for ways to maintain an active, interested online audience. Still with me? I see synergies... everywhere.

The Social Ideal

So one day, once upon a time, I was over at the Forward Together blog, brought to you by Abila. Now, Abila is a provider of association management software. You might naturally ask yourself: what the heck does an association management software provider have to do with you selling your books?

Well, go read Deirdre Reid's post called "How to Get People to Share Your Content." The honesty of the title is refreshing, in any case. Aren't we authors and bloggers and Web marketers just out to manipulate our audiences into doing what we want them to do? At the end of the day, aren't we all just out for ourselves? I mean, why else would we bother with any of this audience engagement stuff, right? We just want people to buy our stuff, don't we?

(I really hope you can read my sarcasm right now.) Anyhoo, in her post, Reid describes the social media ideal this way:

"Close your eyes and imagine a perfect world. Your audience never misses a post because your content is so interesting and entertaining. They can hardly wait to share it. Your reputation as the industry’s premier resource spreads. Your Google ranking and retention rate improve as more traffic and members come your way."

Sounds nice, right? So how do you get there?

Over the years, I've been asked to join dozens upon dozens of social media strategy meetings in which the main question of the hour was this: How do we get people to listen to us?

In other words... How do we get more traffic to our websites? How do we get people to subscribe to our e-newsletters? How do we get people to comment on our articles? How do we get people to post our links? How do we get people to talk about us on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn?

All of which, of course, leads ultimately back to the driving question behind marketing: How do we get people to buy our stuff?

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It All Starts With a Conversation

So over the years, I've sat in dozens and dozens of strategy meetings, listening as my colleagues and bosses went 'round and 'round the rosie yet again, just to arrive at that same old starting point yet again, and as always, my answer has been, "We need to start asking the right questions."

Michael Hyatt, former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, has a great post called "The Primary Difference Between the Wise and the Foolish." He's describing a meeting that brings back a sense of déjà vu so strong, I can actually taste the burnt coffee getting cold while we all waste our time sitting there:

"It quickly became apparent that he didn’t want to change. In fact, the entire conversation was about why he couldn’t change, why he didn’t need to change, and why he wasn’t responsible for the results he was getting."

Ouch. Sound like anyone you know? Don't be that guy.

The irony I enjoyed so much about Reid's post is that "getting people to share your content" is code for "getting to know your audience, becoming a useful member of the community, and sharing what you know." Just read the advice Reid lays out for us:

"Take some time to get to know them - the online community citizens, influencers, connectors, creators and conversationalists. Get a sense of their hot buttons and accepted truths. Find out what they read and share, and what fascinates and irritates them. Listen and learn about their needs and interests. Participate in conversations. Ask questions. Become a trusted member of the community. Without that trust, there’s no chance of success."

It's all about fostering give-and-take relationships that, basically, begin with just being nice to other people. There's no magic potion for social media success, even though some of the "gurus" will swear by their formulas and metrics. Give 'em a break; that's how they sell their books.

Formulas That Don't Add Up

I mean, there's the 20-80 rule: 20% of your content should be self-promotional and 80% of your content should be other-oriented. And yeah, that's probably fine, as a general guiding principle. Then I've had a couple of bosses try to dictate rules of engagement, like "for every one post on the company page, every staff member has to post on two other companies' pages." Things like that get a little forced and unnatural, and that's where I have a problem with the formulaic approach to social media: it's not "real."

That's why I like people like Peter Shankman, Jason Seiden, and Keith Johnston. They're real. They're natural. They're just being themselves, online. And they're nice to people, and that - are you ready for this? - makes other people want to be nice to them.

Is it really that easy? Well, think about it. When was the last time someone did something nice for you? You remember it, don't you? And you remember who that someone was, don't you? And next time you happen to cross paths with that someone, you'll want to do something nice in return, won't you?

Shankman has been my networking and marketing hero for like, ever, and he says it best in a little post called "Yet Again, the Simplest Things Win in Customer Service":

"See, since we have such low expectations of customer service... all you have to do is simply treat each customer one level above 'crap.'"

That's it. Treat every person you encounter just a little better than "crap," and you've already set yourself apart from the crowd.

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The Simple Answer

Why is that? Why is basic decency such a novelty in today's online atmosphere? Honestly, why all the mean-spirited, possessive, proprietary attitudes out there, anyway? Can we really only get ahead by stepping on the heads of our fellows? If that's the case... then do we really deserve to get ahead? If we really believe in ourselves and in our work, then do we really need to cut down other people and their work? Jealousy, back-stabbing, and pettiness... can we be just a little better than that?

Well, I can't speak for you, but I'll tell you one thing: I've noticed that the people who have developed a devoted social media following are the people who are just a little nicer than the average jerk you run into online. The people who foster regular interaction and attract loyal evangelists are the people who care about the people listening to them. The people I admire and refer to as examples and inspirations - the people whose advice has helped me to become successful; the people whose books I plug and whose links I post - are the people who have taken the time out to help me out somewhere along the way. They are the people I aspire to be like in my interactions with people.

What if it wasn't all about us? What if we just endeavored to be "that person" for the next person? How many people might we reach? How much more successful would we be if our goal wasn't just to build an online platform, but to build up the people around us? Try it and see. You might become a social media star before you know it.

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