To listen deeply, share meaningfully, and build community. That’s our mission.
It’s never been our goal to have the most followers, and I don’t see why it ever will be. A massive audience holds no power if it has no passion. So instead we focus our energy on the audience we do have, establishing trust and creating meaningful interactions. We are digital farmers, cultivating advocacy with a strategy driven by the growth of relationships within our community.
Some time ago, I heard about a farmer who proudly proclaimed that he didn’t bother tending to his crops. “That’s a little strange,” I thought. “Sounds like a waste of time and money.” But then he suggested something so wise that it hasn’t left me since. He said he tends to the soil, and the rest takes care of itself.
Your Followers: The Soil
Far too often, we digital media strategists get hung up on the ‘return’ stage of social Return On Investment. We want results, and we want them fast. And while we’re fussing over the return, we tend to forget that it’s the season between planting and harvesting that growth happens — beneath the surface. Despite the immediate nature of social media, our interactions don’t always yield an immediate, tangible return, but they do inspire a growth in the relationship between brand and user. It’s a growth that may not be easy to see, but it’s definitely happening — beneath the surface.
A good farmer knows his soil. He or she knows how the planting strategy should be altered to accommodate the condition of the ground. A seed that grows well here doesn’t necessarily grow just as well over there. With social media, our platforms are our fields, and it’s our job to plant the right seeds to generate the right growth. We do this by coming to know our audiences through data and through listening. On Facebook, we understand that 70% of our engagement comes from women, especially age 35+. On Instagram, 44% of our following is in the range of 18 to 24 years old. We can’t plan the same seeds on both platforms and expect the same growth. We must always examine our soil.
Don’t Hear, Listen
Hearing is sound coming into our ears. Listening is giving attention to that sound. Social media wouldn’t be “social” without actively listening to the conversations happening around your brand. A significant portion of my Twitter duty is to provide customer service. Students often turn to Twitter to voice complaints about parking, poor WiFi connections, and the price of tuition. “I’m just the Twitter guy, though,” I thought. “Do you really think I can get that parking ticket revoked?”
So I decided to start listening harder. When I did, I came to realize that I’m not the Twitter guy to these students. I don’t exist. I am @ColoradoStateU, the institution that these students are pouring a lot of life, love, and passion into. So I kept listening and started responding. Not because I could fix the WiFi or because I could help them find an open parking spot but because sometimes a person just needs somebody to listen. The Twitter guy also struggles to find a parking spot, but he isn’t running late for a midterm exam. The least he can do is offer support to a frustrated student during a particularly demanding time in their life. Their struggles are real and they are valid. Edison Research discovered that customers are more likely to advocate for a brand that has answered their complaint. So I’ve made a point to respond with simple tweets acknowledging that we have heard their concern, understand their frustration, and will help to the extend that we are able. If all goes as intended, that tweet is cultivating a positive relationship beneath the surface.
The beauty of listening is that you discover a purpose for your content. Beautiful things come from content with a purpose.
Say It Because You Mean It
“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” — Dale Carnegie
To address someone by their name is to address that person meaningfully. It validates their existence. In an online environment that lends well to mass communication, I make an effort to
respond to people with their first name (if I can find it). I want that person to know that I didn’t copy and paste my text from a database of precomposed responses, and I want them to know they matter enough to deserve a genuine, custom message — every single time.
Back where I’m from, there’s a weed called kochia. It pops up in all the wrong places before whisking away as a prickly, dead tumbleweed. The problem with kochia is that it isn’t like most weeds. It’s sturdier. Over time, kochia has developed a tolerance to the herbicide that is used to prevent weeds from sucking away water from the crops. The herbicide is no longer as powerful.
On social media, there’s a weed called the exclamation point. It too pops up in all the wrong places, and it sucks away the meaning of words. Instead of crafting words to be meaningful, we’ve come to rely upon the exclamation point as a way to force meaningfulness. Which it doesn’t. So we need to be more protective over our words and less reliant on the ! to say something we don’t mean.