Social Media Is Not Like Selling Used Cars

What makes you think you have a solution?

MustacheLast week I overheard a conversation about a technical roadblock between colleagues. I immediately jumped in with a solution. Big #FAIL. They did not want a solution from me, and as it turned out, I didn’t actually have a solution. The problem was way over my head.

Luckily, we are friends, or at least colleagues. This wasn’t my first conversation with them. But if we didn’t already know each other, this would be one of the worst ways to introduce myself. Yet this is exactly what social media marketers do every day.

You jump into the middle of conversations on Twitter, forums, LinkedIn groups and elsewhere, pitching a solution before you even know what the problem is. Even a used car salesman has enough common sense to ask a question before launching into a pitch. This quote, from a survey response published in Lab Manager Magazine, captured what is happening perfectly:

“Social media is being abused by vendors as a “free advertising” conduit: if someone asks a question in a forum, they immediately get jumped on by vendors trying to sell them something.”

Your social media program must be about relationships first. Without a relationship, there is no foundation to sell from. There is no ability to communicate over time.

If you are serious about social media relationships, here are three tips to ensure you are building relationships, not borrowing tactics from ambulance chasers or used car salesmen.

  • Join conversations because you are interested in the topic, not to push your own agenda. Social media platforms are open, and perspectives that are not clearly self-serving are welcomed.
  • Share information from others freely. Like, comment on, or retweet good information, insight or entertainment from others. On twitter, a common guideline is only one out of every eight tweets should be your own information. The point is: don’t focus on yourself.
  • Add something to the conversation. Bring your own perspective, experience, or additional data. Ask yourself if you are making the conversation better for others by participating, or is it just an opportunity for yourself.

If you are not already using social media actively, before you do anything else, start using social media as an individual. Like pages from others in your industry, follow on Twitter or join at least five groups on LinkedIn.

If you participate actively and look to build individual relationships, you will quickly identify the companies and individuals that are just using social media to blast their own message. You will experience people butting into your conversations. Then, when you join conversations as a marketer, you will understand social media etiquette better than you can learn it from any book, seminar or blog post.

Don’t be a used car salesman in social media. Start forming relationships by actively contributing value and serving the audience, not yourself, first.

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Comments

  1. Marcus Schaller says

    SO true Eric. And even worse that the spammy answers are the spammy questions! I just went to my RSS feed from LinkedIn Answers to look for a good example, and the FIRST “question” I found was this:

    “Do you have questions about Sales and Marketing? Feel free to post them and I will answer!”

    The first response to this tacky non-question was classic: “Yes, questions here are open for ALL to answer – however yours is not a real question, and looks like a clear ad for your services, which is not allowed in this forum.”

    What do you think the solution is? Should LinkedIn and other popular networks start cracking down? Is it even possible to weed out these types of spammers?

    • says

      Hi Marcus, great question, I wish I had the answer. While cracking down would help, I don’t believe it can solve the problem. Automated solutions will become new targets to be gamed, and manual solutions are not cost effective. However, the audience could certainly be empowered to police more than they are now in LinkedIn, for instance.

      Also, our own networks can act as a filter. In LinkedIn, for instance, I almost never look at Answers unless someone points me to a question or I see someone else in my network answer a question. My network has (I hope!) very few spammer on it, and when I begin getting purely promotional messages from someone, I disconnect or unfollow.

      The concern that prompted this post is slightly different. I have seen a number of companies and individuals engaging in these tactics from reasonably upstanding companies. As spam filters are introduced (and I believe they will be), companies that are simply falling into a behavioral trap, versus outright intending to spam, are going to be caught in those filters. Meanwhile, the real spammers will begin evolving tactics to avoid the filters, just like they have done in email. I have called out a couple companies for their behavior on Twitter over the last couple months. They had noble intentions, they simply didn’t understand what was appropriate and what was not. These are the companies that will be crushed by spam filters and more systematic clean up of social ecosystems.

  2. says

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    • says

      Dear Spammer,

      Thank you for the reply that proves the post! THIS is exactly what is wrong with how so many are approaching social media today.

      Thanks for inspiring my blog post this week.

      — Eric

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