It's that time of year when people dress up and pretend to be something else. The trend begins around Halloween, then on towards Christmas there is almost a perpetual parade of cowboys, pirates, fairies, elves and magical creatures that - in fiction - can provide all manner of blessings and benefits but in reality, well, they're just pretend.
So a word to the wise as we approach the season of giving. Beware geeks bearing gifts, particularly in the realms of social media and you truly will have yourself that merry little Christmas.
Over the last few months I've stumbled over several sites promising all sorts of miracles for those who buy their social media wares. If you are thinking of using social media and expanding what you do online, good on you. But, if you are one of the small to medium sized businesses that these sites seem to be aiming at, my Christmas wish would be that you think very carefully and consider the points below before you load up a shopping cart full of exciting looking goodies and click 'send':
- Social media is not about numbers. It is about people communicating with each other, building relationships and working together. If someone promises you 'thousands' of Facebook or Twitter followers they don't understand the environment and are likely to lead you astray. Expensively. This is not a popularity contest and 'follower' numbers don't buy results.
- Social media takes time. Yes, you can get a 'message' out there quickly, but, in the long term, the relationships you forge will be the measure of your success, not how speedily something went 'viral'.
- Look carefully at any site that purports to be run by 'social media gurus' or 'experts' or 'specialists' but features blog posts from 'admin' and has no real people associated with the site. These are signs that you need to be very, very careful before you part with your hard earned cash.
- Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. That's been my message to, well, thousands of people now over the last ten years or more. Understand what you want to achieve, who you want to build a relationship with and why and how you are going to sustain and build that relationship - then start thinking about your strategy and then the tools you might use. Don't start with tactics first and work backwards. That's another Trojan Horse.
- There are lots of genuine people out there who have solid experience in this area. If you are setting out to buy in help, be careful. Talk to real people. Hear some real stories. Don't buy 'off the shelf' - it won't work because your needs are very different to anyone else's - as are the needs of the communities you will serve. And serving and service is a vital component of this space.
So, to recap. Think about what you want to achieve first, don't think it is about numbers and popularity because this is the real world, not high school. Talk to real people, hear some real stories. Scrutinise all geeks bearing gifts. Remember at all times that just because someone is dressed up as Father Christmas, it doesn't mean you'll definitely find Santa underneath - it might just be a pirate or a cowboy looking to take you on a ride to nowhere.