Sincerity, Transparency, Relevancy & Accuracy are key for social media success

Reprinted from Dome Magazine

Social Media S.T.A.R
August 16, 2011

There have been plenty of discussions over the past two years about social networking and how the online outlets are the new grassroots movement. I’ve often said it myself and encouraged politicians and business leaders to get involved and engage if they want to be successful at interacting with their constituents and customers.

I’m often asked about tips and tricks for how to do that in a way that is beneficial for everyone, so I thought I’d share a few hints here. Of course, there is no perfect way to do anything, especially with the fast-growing and even faster-changing world of social media.

One of the most important lessons I often share comes from comedian Bill Cosby, who is credited with saying, “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone.” That statement is great anyway, but in the context of social media, it is vital to remember.

Not only will you not please everyone with what you are doing online, the medium allows “everyone” to give you instant feedback on what’s working and what’s not. That can lead you down a tumultuous path of constantly changing your style and content, to the point where no one really knows what to expect. The downside is they could see that as a reason to stop following you and, therefore, stop listening to you.

So it might help if you remembered some basic rules that I have turned into the acronym S.T.A.R. It stands for Sincerity, Transparency, Accuracy and Relevancy.

Sincerity is about being true to yourself and those who follow you. One of the greatest compliments I can receive is to meet someone in real life who has only known me through social networking, and to have that someone realize I’m the same person in both places. I have the same beliefs, the same sense of humor and the same demeanor in person as I do online.

I don’t use any online tools to make myself seem different or better in some way. If people don’t get enough out of what they see when following you online, they can easily stop following you. But if you show them that you are different in each of your online accounts and in real life, they will soon wonder who the real you really is and doubt what you’re saying in all venues.

Transparency is vital for building trust and for establishing relationships with people. Generally, consumers don’t want to follow a brand, they want to interact with people who happen to work for a brand. It helps us get the feeling of being connected behind the scenes somehow.

Politicians are brands, too, now more than ever. That’s why you must clearly state who is operating the Facebook or Twitter accounts you’ve established for your business or your political office.

If more than one person is adding to the account updates, they can be clearly identified by using the ^ symbol and the writer’s initials. There’s nothing wrong with having staff tweet for an elected official or business owner. But you need to be transparent about it to make sure the brand doesn’t lose the trust of those following it.

Accuracy is important in every aspect of our lives, and that is magnified when you’re online. People are used to getting instant information now and acting upon it very quickly.

Another topic for debate some day will be the desire for all of us lately to know everything right away and take immediate action for or against it, rather than waiting until we have all the facts and developing a well thought out plan. But, in the meantime, if you operate a social networking account, you have to make sure that what you are posting is accurate.

If you find you have made an error, declare so as soon as possible and correct it. Simply deleting your inaccurate post and moving on won’t cut it, because you can never truly delete a post from any account. It often will still exist in someone’s Twitter stream or Facebook news feed, or someone may have made a screen capture that can easily be broadcast to the world to show everyone your error.

People are quite willing to overlook human frailties, and they understand that we all make mistakes sometimes. They do not take kindly to being misled, however, which is what happens when you try to cover up a mistake.

Relevancy means keeping track of who is in your audience and sending them updates that are appropriate. One key to good communication is remembering that communicating is about the recipient more than the sender.

That means you need to post updates that matter to the people who are following you on that particular network. I post regularly to Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Empire Avenue and Foursquare. I rarely cross-post the exact same message to multiple services.

When I do want to share the same information, I often tweak it so that it is written in a way that would be more appealing to that audience. Sure, it means spending a little more time and effort, but if you aren’t willing to spend those on every form of communication, then why bother communicating at all?

There are several third-party programs available that let you send the same message to multiple outlets with a single click. This, however, is not communication, it is robotic shouting.

It’s important to note that doing all the things in STAR requires some time, effort and patience. None of this is easy or free (although, technically, the pure dollar investment is quite minimal). But, as the old saying goes, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. These days, we should add “multiple times.”


Love it or hate it, Journalism 2.0 is amazing

Lots of folks are familiar with the term “Web 2.0,” which refers to the interactive Internet so many of us have come to appreciate and rely upon. In the past couple of weeks I’ve had experiences leading me to the realization that as a former journalist, I’m envious of the reporters who now get to practice their trade in this era of what some are calling “Journalism 2.0.” (Mark Briggs even has a blog by that name that is a running conversation about journalism and technology.)

What got me started down this recent path was writing a piece for Dome magazine about changes occurring in the Lansing, Mich. radio market, including a new Internet-only radio station. That led to a guest appearance on a local radio talk show. During the interview, the host and I were chuckling about how we were discussing changes in radio based on an article I wrote for a magazine — but one that is only published online now. That was interesting experience number one.

The second came when I was contacted by a journalist who is working on a story for a local print magazine that features my wife Jessi. There’s a reference to me in the article, so the reporter contacted me to find out my title at the company I work for. What struck me about the outreach was that it was via Twitter, and the reporter saying, “I tweeted my question because I’m on deadline.”

Of course the reporter, Louise Knott Ahern, also found amusement in my reply, which is that I would probably end up blogging about her tweeting because she’s on deadline. She replied: “I like that your response is that you feel a blog post coming on. Times changing, indeed.” Louise should know. One of the daily papers she’s written for has been shedding reporting staff lately faster than one can say, “I already read this online.”

The third event that triggered this post was writing an article for about cross-posting on social media. The piece’s readership picked up steam when it was shared a lot on Twitter, but it truly came to life when people starting posting thoughtful and thought-provoking comments on it.

I even added a comment to the article:

One of the things I value as an online journalist vs. when I was a print journalist is all the great discussions that can spring from the original article. This is another great example. Thanks for all the comments and allowing us all to learn from every one of you.

I come from an era of journalism that isn’t really that far removed from the present, at least in terms of years. It was the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was putting pen to paper, furiously jotting down notes, statistics and lively quotes to inform and entertain readers.

It’s amazing to think how much has changed in 20 years. I’m not just talking about the technology, although that certainly plays a pivotal role in what has happened. I’m referring to the engagement with the audience that journalists today both enjoy and, probably, revile.

News reports now have an opportunity to become living, breathing entities, fueled by the insightfulness and, unfortunately, the thoughtlessness, delivered by the readers and viewers. These “flame wars” are best illustrated by a comical piece on YouTube involving Beaker from the Muppets.

So, certainly, there is a negative side to allowing comments. And the strain of a constant deadline brought about by a Web-based beast that is perpetually hungry for information is a tough one for some journalists to stomach.

Still, there’s no question that Journalism 2.0 should be embraced and revered. I often long for my days as a full-time newspaper reporter. But, lately, I can’t help but feel sorry for that former journalist who never had a chance to practice his trade the way he could now.

I wonder if the journalism students of today appreciate what they have available to them in their future careers? And, as the name of this blog says, “Here comes later,” so I hope they’re ready for it. Are you?