Walking, and talking, and talking, and walking…

When I wrote about walking the social talk last week, I had no idea what a terrific discussion it would spur.

Image: Lars Plougmann via Flickr, Creative Commons

Really, if you just read through the comments, there’s your follow-up blog post… but since I promised you one, you’re getting one.

A Burke always, always keeps her promises!

All the comments were thoughtful, but there were a few that made me think a lot more about this whole “social media” thing.

Stacy Lukasavitz wrote, “I used to subscribe to this school of thought adamantly, Shonali. But truth be told, after a while, this ‘social media’ stuff has made me consciously LESS social both in person and online, and I have my reasons. I’ll hopefully be expounding on those in a future blog post.”

Hmm. Social media, which by definition is about being communal and sociable, making someone move towards the other end of the spectrum?

Interesting.

Dan Perez said (and I’m pulling excerpts), “I sometimes have a problem when people discuss the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to be social … Social media is a lot like the real world – some people do things in a manner that we agree with and some people don’t. …

“… For me, online ‘conversation’ has no real value other than being the first contact to a possible friendship or business relationship. …

“… That’s why most of my business comes through face-to-face networking either through business groups, chambers of commerce, or volunteering my services at local non profit organizations.

“ ‘Engagement’ is overrated. The question is not ‘are we walking the walk?’ but ‘why?’.

“I know why I’m here, how bout you?”

And when Robin Ferrier (whose initial post sparked this entire thing) talked about finding a middle ground, I replied, while acknowledging that I haven’t found said middle ground yet, that “I’ve found it necessary to start shutting down my online time for the sake of sanity, my eyes and my marriage (very important, that last one).”

Robin remarked that she hadn’t really thought about this, continuing to say (again, an excerpt), “Online convos and social media are allowing some of us to achieve better work-life balance.”

Being less social because of social media

Stacy said that she’ll be writing more about this soon, but this is something that I have noticed about myself as well.

Overall, I think I’m a pretty sociable person, online and off. Offline, my life has been consumed by IABC/DC Metro events (16 more days as president but who’s counting?) and several speaking gigs (which I love doing).

So when I have some down time, there is nothing I want to do more than hibernate in my home, with my husband, dogs and, usually, music and food (ideally that I cook).

Image: Aftab Uzzaman via Flickr, Creative Commons

It’s why I wrote about networking with a twist a while back. Because there is only so much time in the day and, try as I might, I just can’t be an offline social butterfly with no end in sight.

By no means am I saying that online interaction replaces face-to-face communication; far from it.

But let’s be honest, there are way too many events these days, and not enough time.

So for me, it’s a balancing act, especially given the fact that when I commit to an offline event I have to factor in, on average, two, sometimes more, additional hours (getting ready for, and then commuting to and from the event).

Which means that my client work – which has to come first, after all, they are paying the bills – needs either to be finished ahead of time (which can stress me out) or be pushed aside.

And I prefer not to be stressed out.

So guess which one I choose?

On the other hand, my interactions in social have greatly enriched my interactions offline, when I do go to these events. I feel I already know the folks I’m meeting; typically a conversation starts off with, “Oh, you’re <insert Twitter handle>…!”

And that is very cool. That I get to put faces to names.

It’s one of the reasons I’ve felt so at home during the last few PRSA International Conferences. There’s no way – no way – I would have felt so much a part of that community if I hadn’t previously connected with many of the folks I meet IRL on social media.

Like I said, it’s a balancing act.

The “right” way to be social

On the one hand, I am in complete agreement with Dan that there is no blanket “right” or “wrong” way.

Image: otrasventanas via Flickr, Creative Commons

On the other hand, I also concur with Davina Brewer‘s comment, when she said (excerpt), “Agree there may not be a definitive ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in social media and yet, I quickly found what did not work for ME: spammy auto-DMs, programmed tweets just broadcasting all day, popups ads hyping your e-book, etc.”

These don’t work for me either. I have lost count of the number of auto-DMs I receive when I follow someone (or something?), or repeated tweets urging me to “PLEASE DONATE/FOLLOW/SUBSCRIBE AND RT!!!!”

I mean, come on. Seriously?

True, there is no perfect “right” or “wrong” way to walk the social talk. But if we put commonsense into practice, we’ll find our “right” or “wrong” way soon enough.

In other words, behave in social platforms just as we would in real life.

And if more folks did this, there would be fewer spammy DMs (or even @ replies)… which could, conceivably, lead to richer, actual, interactions.

The other point that Dan made, that I thought was really interesting, was why we (anyone) are (is) in social.

Why is anyone – a person, a company – embarking on social media?

Is it simply to chit-chat? And if that’s so, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that… if it works for them.

Or is it for fear of being left behind? To explore a different communication channel? To start adding dimension to the existing channels?

To try to connect with those who might become part of a community? And then start converting that activity into new clients, sales, etc.?

That seems to me to be one of the key questions any organization needs to be able to answer – and answer convincingly – before they embark on social.

But one of the main lessons many organizations still have to learn is that social media is, primarily, about conversation.

Start out by incessantly tooting your own horn, shoving yourself down people’s throats, screaming and not talking, and you’re practically hoisting with your own petard.

And who on earth wants that?!

Online activity v. offline balance

I alluded to this earlier, and I think this is still one of the main concerns for anyone embarking on social media.

Will it be a time suck? Is there any ROI? Who cares what I had for breakfast? What’s the point?

It is very, very tough to find a balance… or, at least, the balance that works for you.

But if reports on how social media is slowly but surely taking a foothold around the globe are any indication, this is no longer a “should I” but a “how can I.”

And therein lies the rub.

I believe that, more and more, we will find our organizations and clients not questioning the reason to incorporate social into our overall communication plans, but asking how they (we) can hit the ground running and/or do it better.

Sure, there are some basics, but you and I know there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this.

Start (open the friggin account, for heaven’s sake!). Engage. Build. Set benchmarks. Start measuring. Etc.

Which  brings me back to the original question: how are we walking the social talk?

Saying “start, engage, build” etc. isn’t enough.

Even if we’re already doing this – or think we are – how can we do it better?

What are the mechanics of being more social?

Because – it seems to me – if we can get a grip on the mechanics – and then start to personalize them – we can truly walk the social talk.

More on that tomorrow… and yes, this will also pull from the comments on the previous post (hint, Julie Walraven, you’re in it).

How cool are my commenters? Mwaah.

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke