When you read about social media or listen to presenters talk about social media it’s easy to get jaded. The big deal, according to these presenters and bloggers, is that you should “engage your audience” via social tools like Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn!
But what does that really mean, anyway? “Engage your audience.” It’s like telling someone who has a weight problem they should eat better. True? Yes. Helpful? Not very.
When it comes to my audience, I don’t really try to be engaging, instead I try to be listening. I try to be helpful.
Listen and be helpful, a simple example.
I’m going to give you an example. Hopefully this will make it easier to forget about “engaging your audience” and instead focus on listening and being helpful.
At a live tweetup or other event sometime in the past year I met Zack Luby. At the time Zack had just started Good Stuff Communications, a digital firm specializing in work with sustainable businesses. We had a great chat and I really admired his energy and enthusiasm–one of the reasons I like hanging out with other entrepreneurs.
Since meeting Zack in person we have occasionally communicated via Twitter, but not really that often. It’s pretty casual. You know, the “hey that’s a cool link, thanks for sharing” sort of thing.
Maybe you have people in your Twitter list like that. People that are more than just a Twitter handle but that you don’t interact with every day.
My goal, with using any media, is to find more opportunities to help people. Since I follow Zack and I’m looking to help people, I noticed this:
I follow almost 600 people. How did I notice this in my never-ending stream of Twitter madness? Zack isn’t on my “stalker” list. He isn’t a client or a prospect so his activity isn’t piped into my email or phone automatically. He’s just a casual contact.
But he used the special hashtag for people who are looking to be helped.
The special hashtag people use when they are looking to be helped.
In fact, Zack used the special hashtag twice. It looks like this:
I’ve trained myself, when scanning content streaming by on Twitter, to look for the special hashtag first and then look at the person Tweeting. This way I see more people who are looking to be helped. It’s sort of a mindhack–using your brain to overcome an obstacle.
As an added bonus, no one has to be trained to use the special hashtag anymore because people using Latin-based alphabets have been using it since around the 13th century.
In this case, I was psyched because I could help. I have ridden the train from Burlington VT to Brattleboro VT several times. I know what’s great and how to make the best use of that ride.
Less than a minute and a half and I was able to verifiably help someone.
But it doesn’t end there. You see, I gave Zack an awesome tip. And Zack is the kind of guy who appreciates an awesome tip. When I got to work the next day, my Twitter feed had this in it:
In the realm of helping someone out or just plain making stuff people like, this is the double decker sandwich. The idea was good, the reality was even better. Zack let me and everyone else know.
Since writing this article I’ve gotten even more strategic about this practice. I have developed targeted Twitter searches by location for people who want to be helped.
Listening and being helpful in social media
For a tactic to be useful it has to be repeatable. Maybe I just got lucky there, helping out someone. But I don’t think so.
I take specific steps and actions to listen and be helpful. I’m going to write about how I do this soon.
For now, here’s a list of the things I had to have in place in order to be helpful this one time:
- Follow actual people on Twitter (as opposed to feedbots, robot brands, etc).
- Follow people who appreciate being helped.
- Trained myself to look for the special hashtag that people who want to be helped use.
- Spot someone looking to be helped.
- Have some specific real-world experience that is relevant to how the person wants to be helped.
- Share my helpful experience.
There’s no real secret sauce in this, is there? It’s pretty much stuff I learned in kindergarten and earlier. Granted it’s taken about this long to sink into my skull, but I’m getting it now.
If the six areas I’ve outlined in the list above make sense to you, then you can stop engaging your audience too. You can just listen and be helpful instead.