Discussions and comments: What to do when audience attention strays

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably got a handle on the social media basics.  In short, as the as-old-as-a-saw-can-be-if-it’s-social-media-can-be goes, if you wouldn’t want it on a billboard in Times Square, don’t put it online.  There’s the obvious privacy implication in that trope, but there’s also the sub-message that what you say online be worthy of a billboard.

…and yet. A lot of the things we say online would make a pretty boring billboard. That makes sense: social media and the associated community building require introductions, chatting, and small talk. While there’s room for soapboxing, monologues, and shouting from the mountaintops, that type of one-way broadcasting isn’t what defines social networking.

So how do you navigate discussion in these three areas knowing that the conversation will meander, and that it may not stay on the topic you’d hoped for?

Be interesting
…And be infuriated. I promise that you are sick of being told to create engaging content. Yet being interesting (feel free to substitute any of the following: authentic, witty, exciting, engaging, surprising, or whatever next week’s social media buzzword is) is still an excellent way to keep people, uh, interested.

Be interested and respond
If you’ve successfully found a topic that gets people talking, keep them talking. Go beyond thanking people for replying. You know the basics. You know everyone should get some sort of acknowledgement, but look for the deeper connection within the comment you’re responding to. If their comment reminds them of another aspect of what you do, sell, or present (which, hopefully, you’re sincerely passionate about), respond and ask the person if they’ve made the same connections. Provide links or brief anecdotes to illustrate your points.

Thread

Follow the threads that your commenters leave

Let it flow
If the conversation is polite and respectful and your followers feel like discussing something else, follow them there. You may be disappointed that your killer blog post didn’t generate the type of conversations you wanted, but if it generated conversation at all you’re doing something right.

With that thread of conversation, you’ve now got at least one fresh blog topic that you know will be interesting to your audience, plus you’ve shown that you pay attention to what goes on in the comment thread.

The pros and cons of automation for social media

Full disclosure from the start, point one: This blog post is being written a week ahead of its release date. Disclosure point two: I’m actually a huge anti-fan (it’s the best way I can describe it) of automating social media.

When does it make sense to automate?
If you read last week’s post, you discovered (in addition for my love of incongruous German stock photos) that I wholeheartedly encourage setting up RSS feeds and Google Alerts. In other words, automate away for the research portions of your social media life. However, I think using WordPress or HootSuite to broadcast limited bits of information that are completely non-controversial are fine only if you’re there to monitor the social universe for possible conflicts and gaffes immediately before and after your posts go live…In which case, why not just have the post ready and ensure that your optimal time really is optimal?

On to the cons
In the years I’ve been monitoring social media, I’ve seen dozens of  cringe-worthy automated social media posts: “It’s a great day to…” vacation posts that seem insensitive nested in between the live posts of breaking news of a national disaster. Posts meant to engage the follower by asking questions. The follower asks a question back, met by….silence.

Nothing.

Because no one is on the other end. They set that “engaging” post up months ago. Whoops.

And if no one’s at the monitor (or tablet, or iPhone) to respond to that question, they’re not there re-tweeting in a timely manner or otherwise engaging, either.

Okay, can I ever set up an automated post?
Sure. Event listings are perfect for automated posts. You can ease the mind of worried clients or coworkers by showing them that they are not only in the communications plan, but in fact, they’ re already taken care of.

Ultimately, though…say it with me…find out what works for you. You may find your messaging is immune to the types of gaffes I’ve witnessed. Go for it! Hootsuite and its more expensive peers do have a lot to offer beyond automation (saved searches, for example), so when you’re trying out the other features, try automated posting in a safe, controlled experiment. If it works for you, go for it.

I, however, remain the skeptical social media off-the-gridder on this one.

Getting started with social media when you don’t have time

When I meet people interested in social tools who haven’t yet joined Twitter or some other social network, the reason is invariably that the person “doesn’t have time” to add one more activity to his or her day. For my first post (For my first trick…), here are three tips I recommend to friends and clients to minimize or eliminate time issues when first starting out:

Angry male puppet with grey mustache and sleeping cap.

You don’t have to be a puppet on a string, at the mercy of your schedule.

Stick with what you know and love
Like anything else in life, you’re more apt to make time in life for things you enjoy, so start out with a social platform that resonates with your interests. Most comfortable with the written word? If time really is an issue, Twitter’s character limit should be a blessing rather than a hindrance. More the visual type? Instagram. Like a little bit of everything and want to connect with an artistic, tech-savvy crowd? I’m pretty sure they’re still on Tumblr.

Granted, you’ll see posts online and forwarded emails from coworkers telling you your industry is on site x and you absolutely must be there. Fine. You can cross-post. The point is, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. But if you don’t like sugar, try the social media equivalents of honey, agave, maple syrup…whatever appeals to you.

Set aside time for a daily “five, three, one”
Sound gimmicky? Yep! But it’s the structure that matters here. Five minutes of browsing your chosen social platform, three times a day, one interaction each time. Of the three total times you’ll be interacting, try to make one of those original content, one a share of related content, and one some type of interaction with someone who’s creating content that you like.

For those who truly have difficulty finding spare time in a day, this will be the most infuriating step. If you don’t have 15 minutes available, try two, five-minute blocks, or three, three-minute blocks. Do what you can. My hope is that the final step below gives you targeted searching and automation steps that will buy you a minimum of five minutes a day back to devote to some of these beginning social media steps. So, on to the non-gender-specific monarch of the time-savers: RSS Feeds, email alerts and saved searches.

Use the tools you already have
If you’re in a profession that puts you in the kind of bind that allows you to say you’re too busy, you’re also in the kind of profession where you’re on a smartphone. You’ve got internet access, email, and social media apps at your fingertips. With a little time for setup and research, you can get your social media sharing moving.

I am a huge fan of using RSS feeds to track social media and tech news. Still, many people are intimidated by feed readers so I’ll focus on the friendlier option here. (I will mention, though, that with the recent demise of Google Reader that I’ve switched to and recommend Feedly). For the email alternative, visit Google Alerts and perform a search related to your industry. Set the frequency you’d like (daily is a good option for five, three, one), and enter your email address. Confirm by clicking the link sent in a follow-up email and boom! You’ve just given yourself a daily list of things to talk about and share online. Be sure to perform similar searches internally on your social network of choice. You’ll find people in our industry with similar interests that may be worth getting in touch with.

So there you go. Those are my three tips for jump-starting your social media activity if you feel like time isn’t on your side. They’re on the common-sense side of things, for sure. But it’s why I love social media and why I’m drawn deeper into it as my career progresses: it’s a straightforward way of communicating that allows creativity among the largest base of people.

I genuinely love talking shop, so please feel free to get in touch! Leave me a comment or send an email. Thanks for reading!