Three Shibboleths of Social Media

Octopus bimaculatusWhen you read all of the free advice about social media out there you’ll hear a few common phrases: “You have to” “No one likes” “Everyone likes” and so on. Typically these phrases are followed by something that worked anecdotally for the person who is giving you the free advice. Very rarely there’s a thin slice of data to back it up.

Or it’s something that worked back when the free-advice-giver was building their audience.

But social media, just like human behavior, changes over time. Things that once seemed mandatory fall by the wayside. The behavior of early adopting geeks and risk-takers doesn’t always mesh with mainstream as the  “here comes everybody” shifts patterns in how things get used, said and done.

To counter the free advice of what you “have to do,” what “everyone” likes and the ideal messaging architecture I freely identify three shibboleths of social media below:

One: You have to to be on Facebook

There are many different social networks and tools online. Some are among the oldest web properties in existence (bulletin boards and forums and so on). Some are only minutes old and require paying someone off to get into their ultra-private beta.

If your business isn’t a “mass media” business and your approach to social media doesn’t depend on grinding hundreds of people through your “engagement process” then you might experience just as much success on any of the dozens of other viable socially enabled entities online.

You have to be where ever you decide to be.

Be warned: Actually being where you decide to be may be harder than “having to be on Facebook.”

Two: No one likes long content

It’s true that people are busy and no one wants to waste time. Well, most people don’t want to waste time anyway.

But it’s also true that people want some solutions to their problems. And the more significant the problem the more in depth they want their solution.

Short articles are great for getting a lot of readers (that’s why advertising-driven sites write short articles) while long articles are good for getting people who are actually looking to solve a problem (this is why subscription-driven and consultant sites go long).

Some of my customers are in real estate. Someone who, unlike me, knows something about selling real estate has told me that buying a house is the biggest financial transaction someone is likely to make.

Some of my customers are communicating information to solve life-threatening situations for the government.

Some of my clients are in emerging technologies and narratives that no one has envisioned before.

Big problems or small problems?

Three: Hub and Spoke

Initial forays into social involved this approach: Instead of doing search engine optimization and paid advertising simply set up profiles/pages on social networks and “drive traffic” to your website instead. It’s “FREE!” except of course that it isn’t. Not if you value your time.

Be present and engaged in your chosen social networks and learn to flow traffic instead.

Beware: Learning and understanding flow may require deeper thought to execute than hub-and-spoke.

Don’t settle for shibboleths

Things change. People change. Business objectives change. Social media and social tools only accelerates the malleable nature of digital stuff.

Try things. See if they work. Then continue to try things.

Join the Conversation


  1. So I have to get all the way to the bottom and you still make me look up “shibboleths”?

    Seriously, nicely broken down. Sometimes doing the opposite that everyone else is doing can have dramatic results. Back when I was a loan officer, I was told to basically take the month of December off. Nothing much happened and my time would be better spent with family or creating the business plan for the coming year. Instead, used to ramp up my marketing during December because all the other LO’s pretty much took the month off. Most years, December was my best month.

    Shibboleths be damned!

  2. But but but … I *must* fit into this box or I won’t get Klut/Retwoots/Facepings! You know what Gahlord? Apple is the most valuable company in the world. They have a great logo with a little apple on it. Since it works for them I’m going to use it too. Surely the reason for their success is that one thing.

    I hereby recommend if you want to be successful you use the Apple logo on all your advertising. It works!

  3. Yes, try things and see if they work, and yes YES, iterate it, but you also don’t need to heroically re-invent the wheel with every new experiment. I’d add to your wonderful essay, “Pay attention to what peers are doing, and don’t be afraid to copy them. That’s what our memetic nature is for.”

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