making sense of social
using twitter

If you work in social media you need to be active in social media

It’s scary but there are countless numbers of people working in social media, be it specialist social media agencies, digital pr agencies or traditional marketing agencies that clearly have no clue social media. And the reason is mind numbingly obvious, the reason they have no idea what they’re doing is because they aren’t active users themselves. It’s no surprise that people that don’t actively participate in social media struggle to come up with ways to engage users, or worse, do things that make active users cringe in disbelief.

If you aren’t involved in social media then you will lack a fundamental understanding of what it is about. Planning a campaign is all about trying to get inside the heads of your audience, understand their motivators and behaviours are to ensure that you deliver a campaign that is relevant and compelling. But developing a social media strategy without being actively involved is like trying to be a priest without believing in God, or knowing what religion is. (thanks to Darren for the metaphor)

When trying to figure ways to engage with bloggers the best tool at your display is firsthand knowledge of bloggers. The best way to get into the mindset of a blogger is to actually become one. Want to understand Twitter users? Then use Twitter!

Sure ideally we would want firsthand knowledge of all of our user groups when developing a strategy, but a lot of the time it’s unrealistic for a planner to have a deep understanding of everything the audience has experienced. But there really is no excuse for not being active in social media. It’s easy to set up a blog, write a few posts, and get a feel for the medium. Then when you ask the question “why would bloggers be interested in this campaign?” you can answer it, because you are to some extent, a blogger.

The concern is that so many people seem to be “working in social media”, with only a basic understanding of what social media is. Until you started actively getting involved, living in social media, then you will nearly always fail to understand it. Chances are you will see social media merely as a set of tools that some people use, without really knowing why.

If you work in social media, talk about social media strategies or try to sell social media campaigns to your clients, then you need to be actively participating in it. At best you are a liar and will only be able to deliver mediocre tried and tested campaigns, at worst you are a conman and will end up damaging the brands of your clients.


About the author

This post was written by Mike Phillips

Plannery type person with silly side projects. Not to be trusted.

Follow them on twitter: @imjustmike

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  1. Katie White |

    Mais oui Mike Phillips. Such behaviour makes me cringe. There are subtleties and nuances of communicating using social media that are different from those in other forms of communication. I think they’re usually etiquette-based, and they’re not that complicated, but they are present and I don’t believe you can pick up on them unless you’re an active user…

    How people who work in the industry don’t use social media is beyond me (I get so much information and interact with so many great minds because of it its awesome), but even if you don’t feel the need on a personal level, professionally I think its pretty poor form to not embrace the world in which you work…

    **contravening many subtleties and nuances by leaving a three paragraph response to a blog post with nowhere near enough LOLs and WTFs**

  2. Sarah |

    I get very annoyed with people telling me how run a Social Media campaign or tell me they have 200 follows and by advertising with them I will benefit from then having 200 followers. <— if you know the answer to that bit, please blog it as it will make a lot of people happy ;)

    As the Outliers bloke (Gladwell?) said, 10,000 hours to become an expert, how can you expect someone to pay expert rates if they don't practice what they preach?

  3. Nick Gill |

    Agree 100%. To be credible you have to be an active & enthusastic participant. Walk the walk and all that. A dead zone twitter or blog should make clients think again.
    Too much bluster, especially around social media of people suddenly becoming “experts” overnight.

  4. Damian Stafford |

    I think there are different perspectives. First, yes indeed it is quite helpful if those offering consultancy on how to jump on the social media bandwagon know how it works and are familiar with the terrain around which said bandwagon must navigate. Second, it is surely in the former group’s interest that everyone else does not have much of a clue about what social media is, the tools and techniques used to engage in the phenomenon, etc. Until the latter group familiarises itself with what the fuck’s going on, there’s money to be made by those who can drive or navigate the bandwagon. I think the challenge for the former group, and its profit model, will come when the latter group does what this article suggests is not actually too difficult. As businesses employ people whose age by definition makes them familiar with the levers or reins or whatever one needs to drive and navigate a bandwagon, will any consultancy service(s) still be required?

  5. Jas Dhaliwal |

    My gentle advice is that before hiring any agency or individual to help you develop your social strategy. Ask to see how they themselves use social media in their business.

    1. How up-to-date is their blog?
    2. How engaged is their Twitter feed? (Don’t just be led by numbers).
    3. Being competent at social, is NOT just reading Mashable each day and tweeting bollocks from a Twitter account. Experience, knowledge, passion and patience all count for a lot in the work you do.
    4. Any idiot can create a fan page, and get you a few thousand followers. The competent social person, will explain and demonstrate how those followers and fan can help your firm’s bottom line.
    5. Going Social – is a long term commitment. Many forget that.

  6. DowntownRob |

    Agreed. So many try to cash in on social media, and go splat, usually because they think there’s a easy and quick way to leverage it – and there’s not. It’s not all about business networking and posting social media-related tweets, clawing your way into the minds of your followers as some sort of authority; it’s more long-term, about engaging as a real person with other real people, and that usually means you need to talk about other things besides business and social media.

  7. Nancy Roberts |

    Wow. That’s like saying that in order to write a cookbook you should actually go and cook something first…um, wait. Oh. Yeah, you could be right.

  8. Kevin Cesarz |

    Number of followers – posh. The best test is asking a legitimate question on a channel or two and waiting for a reply. If they are truly plugged in you’ll get your answer.

  9. Neil Fairbrother |

    Yes. And until you get the basics right, such as copywriting, then your credibility to deliver more complex campaigns is questionable. Suggest you invest in a copywriter.

    What’s the ROI for investing in social media?

  10. Luca |

    Firstly, great post Mike.

    Im sure you’re enjoying being in the ironic social media spotlight for highlighting something very relevant in the social media sector.

    This post is so simple and you would think would be common sense… yet common sense isn’t so common nowadays.

    You highlight very simple fundamentals that should be covered and you compare them with laughable metaphors that should raise alarm bells to the industry that not everyone working in social media actually has a scooby doo what they are doing.

    I’m tired of seeing my twitter timeline clogged up with mashable retweets from self claimed experts who are nothing more than this chap in this video.

    I’ve bookmarked your blog and will add you to my blog roll Mike.

    Keep up the good work and i look forward to seeing more from you.


  11. hitbyabus |

    hi mike. good post. yes, you have to understand the medium to understand how to connect with people and communicate your message effectively. that is true of ANY medium…not just social. all of my clients want to know what their social media strategy should be…just like in 1996 when they all wanted to know what their web strategy should be. it’s deja vu all over again. they know they need to be in the space but they have absolutely no clue what the space is about–or why they need to be there. first-hand understanding of how all of the digital tools work–and how they work together with the non-digital ones–is just part of the picture. you still need a big idea to connect the dots.

  12. Leigh Shulman |

    I often get e-mails from the social media expert of any number of websites asking if I want to trade links or be featured in return for a link. I can tell a mile away when these people don’t really know much about social media.

    It’s all in the language. You don’t have to explain to me what Twitter and Facebook are. I’m also aware of Stumble Upon. And when you assume I don’t, it makes it clear you haven’t even read my blog.

    Which in my book is the number one rule of social media. Get to know people and make a real connection.

    Great post, btw. And I’m happy to have happened on your blog. Sorry for the rant. :)

  13. Andy Bryant |

    And if you’re recruiting for a social media position, yet the applicants don’t link to their twitter, linkedin, google profile or blog on their CV, and you can’t find their presence on google, then they don’t deserve an interview. Andy.

  14. BlytheDanner |

    Kind of goes without saying doesn’t it. In fact the presence of this blog on the internet and its content kind of show that everything to do with social media is now fucked and trite.

  15. Glenn |

    I find it hilarious when I run across “social media consultants” on Twitter who have 2 followers. That’s most likely their spouse (who probably isn’t active on Twitter) and a spammer. Yet they have no problem pontificating about social media.

  16. Marcin Cieślak |

    This is actually nothing new. You would be surprised to find out how many people that are responsible for acquisition of TV content don’t watch TV. Especially the content they buy.

  17. Tracey Linnard |

    Im guessingyou have something to do with the Mumset fiasco..too much of a coincidence. Are you?

  18. songy |

    well,,, could i say that this hit the nail on the head for me. I’m a blogger so I’ve been telling all my client how it should be done but my company hasn’t got anything going in social media.. until I found your blog it didn’t click that I should really do something for the company I work for. If we haven’t got any how could I go out and sell? Pretty obvious but it took me seven months to realise it. I guess it’s better late than never.

  19. Mike Phillips |

    I think that your background as a blogger will prove invaluable to your company. Hope it all goes well!

  20. songy |

    Thanks, Mike. Interestingly, right after this I went ahead and had a meeting with girls in the office and came up with a strategy. I then wrote a paper to be endorsed by the senior management. Our first Social Media Strategy paper! Yeepee.
    Thanks for your reply. We’ll have to see how we go. I’ll be following you to brush up on facts and get some insight. Thanks again.

  21. The Claw |

    Actually, the fact that you can empty your clients’ wallets with a social media strategy – despite being completely inactive in social media yourself – is all kinds of awesome!

  22. Alrick |

    I’m a “social media strategist” by trade and I’ve been preaching some of this stuff to people for months. Everyone is so obsessed and consumed by how many followers they have because it’s quantifiable when in reality you could have a twitter account about your love for rye bread and get hundreds of twitter followers in hours through all the followback hashtags on twitter. Hell you can even buy facebook/twitter followers now! It’s all about getting followers who are actually engaged with and want to interact with what you are posting on your social media channels – the classic quality over quantity. Give me 100 twitter followers who are actually engaged with what I’m posting over 10,000 who can’t even speak my language. It’s such a joke.

  23. Tom |

    I’ve been working as a social media expert for a very large company for the last 2 years. I don’t actively participate in social media outlets (twitter, Facebook, etc.) mostly because I’m a pretty private person. That doesn’t mean I don’t know the ins and outs of the technology and understand the mindset of our fans/followers, etc. I’ve helped bring our FB fans to 3MM+, Twitter followers to 30k+, and have designed a successful YouTube strategy… and we’ve seen those numbers translate into revenue.

    Just want to throw out the argument that even though some of us are not social people, we can still “get it” and do it successfully.

    I’ll concede, though, that I’d have a pretty difficult time going into social strategy consulting without actively contributing.


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