People like to say that there are no stupid questions. Obviously, that's a matter of perspective. I've heard plenty of stupid questions in my life. But those aren't what this article will be addressing. Stupid questions -- whether you believe they exist or not -- are usually pretty addressable and innocent. And sometimes even amusing. But there are others that are not -- not innocent, not amusing, and sometimes not even addressable.
Social media managers have heard them all.
It's understandable that members of social media teams field more questions than your average marketer. Social media can hardly be called the new hotness anymore. But it's definitely still one of the most dynamic parts of the marketing landscape. It gets bigger, broader, and more complicated with every day, and not everyone can keep pace. That's why we pay certain people to do that.
That said, there are certain questions that are routinely posed -- over and over again -- to social media managers and their teams that can really begin to grate over time. Some are irritating. Others are rude. All are counterproductive and represent a fundamental misunderstanding of social media and its role in marketing. In this article, we'll address those questions and how to better tackle the issues at their core.
Q: Can you put up more posts that will go viral?
Why it's annoying: First off, you should stop using a word if you don't know its definition. Volumes have been written about the term "viral" and the varying degrees of annoyance that it sparks in marketing circles. But it's still commonly bantered about haphazardly as though everyone in the room will instantly know what's being discussed.
When this question comes up, the first discussion to have is regarding what exactly the person means by "go viral." Surely the person is asking whether the social media team can produce content that will be shared. But to what degree? Is the asker expecting the next Harlem Shake? Or would the person just like to see a YouTube video get a few hundred views rather than a dozen? Set some expectations.
The second discussion to have is around the nature of viral sharing. Years ago, social media managers might simply tell someone, "You can't predict viral sharing." But over the years, we've made a lot of progress in this area. (Just Google "how to predict viral sharing" and watch the articles pour in.) There are factors that help enhance the shareability of content. And some people claim they can measure that. But few will deny that there is still plenty of lightning in a bottle happening when something truly "goes viral" -- things no one foresaw and can't replicate.
Furthermore, while some viral phenomena happen all on their own, many that happen -- especially on the brand marketing side -- are a result of very strategic content seeding and media buys. Putting a little money behind a favored piece of content can produce exceptional results. But usually the people who ask, "Can you make it go viral?" have something a little more organic in mind, in which case you're facing an uphill battle.
The better question to ask: What types of posts can we put up that people are going to want to share? And what can we do to increase the likelihood that people will find that content?
Q: Social media -- that's free, right?
Why it's annoying: Believe it or not, this assumption still gets thrown out there. I know I'm not the first to palm my face over it, but it must be included in the context of this article given its continued prevalence.
First, the response: No. It's not free. Facebook and Twitter might not charge you to set up an account. But that's about where the freebies end. Social media takes time, and time is -- everybody together now -- money. Advertising and sponsorships in social media cost money. Proper social analytics tools cost money.
When this question was first routinely asked, it was often mere ignorance talking. But these days, when social media managers hear it, it's hard not to take downright offense. "Is it free?" they think. "Well, this is how I make my living, so no. It's not free. (In fact, you're paying me, so why are you even asking that??)" Social media has value. And thus, it carries a price tag.
The better question to ask: What kind of investment will it take to have the social media presence we want? And where are the costs?
Q: Can't we have the intern do that? (Worse: Can't we have my nephew do that?)
Why it's annoying: This is another oldie but goodie. And today, it's even more prevalent than the question around the cost -- or assumed lack thereof -- of social media. But it comes from the same place -- a perceived lack of sophistication required when managing a brand in social media.
Young professionals -- those right out of college -- did grow up with "this social media thing," yes. So they get it better than anyone else, right? Wrong. That's like assuming that because a person grew up watching TV that they can write, produce, and edit an amazing commercial right out of the gate. It obviously doesn't work like that.
Social media marketing takes time, training, and a level of savvy and maturity that often isn't present in the most junior of employees. As such, social media departments must be structured according to levels of seniority, and responsibilities must be metered out based on who has a proven track record in proper execution. Yes, your intern might rock a social media gig right out of the gate. Great! Give that person a promotion and more responsibility. But don't just give the keys to your social media program over to the first young person you find and hope all goes well. (It won't.)
The better question to ask: What is the proper way to structure our social media team and divvy up responsibilities?
Q: Can you create us an account on [insert latest social media darling]?
Why it's annoying: The annoyance related to this question is one of nuance, but it's an important one regardless. The short answer to this question is almost always, "Yes." But the reason it makes your social team crazy is the underlying assumption -- the idea that every brand must be on the latest social media platform. Or, more importantly, that the social media team has the resources to be on every platform.
That said, depending on your brand, it might very well make a lot of sense to explore the new platform in question. But be sure to approach the issue with your team as a conversation rather than a mandate. There's no point in diving into a new social sphere if you're going to have to half-ass it. And spreading your social resources too thin could set you back when it comes to other platforms where your brand already has a strong presence.
The better questions to ask: Should our brand be on [insert latest social media darling]? If so, what do we need to do to make that happen?
Q: Can you get us more Facebook fans/Twitter followers?
Why it's annoying: As with the previous question, this one requires a little qualifying. Because, frankly, every social media manager should expect to hear this question. And they need to be prepared to answer it. And, if they can't increase followers to some extent, they're probably not going to have a job for very long.
But, that said, there are plenty of ways that social media managers can artificially inflate follower numbers when backed into a corner -- but they aren't necessarily going to get your brand any closer to its goals.
This question -- often repeated in broken-record fashion -- can become quite irritating when asked by a colleague who thinks the only measure of social media success is in followers. For one, not all brands can garner Starbucks-level social followings. And most of them shouldn't. A lot of brands are niche, local, or both. As such, their follower levels should reflect that. And regardless, the size of a brand's social following doesn't mean a thing if that audience isn't engaged. So there are better questions to be asking.
The better questions to ask: How can we get more loyal Facebook fans/Twitter followers? And how can we drive more engagement with them?
"Group of business people holding a question mark" image via Shutterstock.