In case you’re unfamiliar with this old French term, the ever-reliable Wikipedia helpfully defines a charlatan as "a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception".
You’ve probably been exposed to them. In an updated version of a get rich quick trick, they promise to build up your following for a fee. But, as Linda Cheung points out in a recent Entrepreneur Country blog, you can’t buy genuine social media engagement. You have to earn it. Here’s how:
1: Identify With Your Audience
I suggest the first step is to identify with your target audience. Note that I didn’t just say “identify” your audience. You need to work out who you’re hoping to reach, and what’s likely to be important to them. You can’t create messages that matter without a clear sense of what’s likely to resonate with your intended audience.
2: Curate Compelling Content
Let’s face it, few people are likely to be interested in the fact that you’ve enjoyed a delicious hummus sandwich or even that you are full of the joys of spring. You’ll earn engagement if what you have to say is interesting, relevant and/or important to your audience.
An approach that works for me is to use a blend of links to third party articles that I sense my audience will be interested in, together with links to content from my own blog. You’re acting as both a curator and a creator here - hoping to anticipate what your audience will appreciate.
3: Leverage the Strengths of the Different Platforms
A lot of the buzz about social media has been associated with Facebook, and there’s no doubt that there’s a growing amount of good work being done by many B2C and (more recently) some B2B companies. But social media isn’t all about Facebook.
Twitters’ 140 character is a real focusing factor. Mark Twain commented “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Twitter forces focus - so you need to understand why your reader should want to click a link to read more of the details.
LinkedIn is the powerhouse of B2B social media. A high proportion of senior executives in most industries are members. Participate in the groups that are active and interested in the topics you have an opinion on - and consider creating a group of your own.
4: Educate, Don’t Sell
Social communities don’t like hard sell. It’s unproductive and can get you excluded from the groups that ought to be valuable to you. So, when you’re considering what content to publish, seek first to educate and to share, rather than to sell.
5: Have a Provocative Point of View
Finally, don’t be bland. Seek out facts that your audience might not have been aware of. Help them to take a fresh perspective. Let your personality come though in your writing, and, where appropriate, don’t be afraid to take a constructively provocative position on an important issue.
This is a subtle balance. It’s easy to end up a social media bore if you bang on too hard and too often about either yourself or a pet peeve. Keep it in balance.
Don’t Forget the Rest of the Marketing Mix
Social media supplants, rather than replaces, the traditional marketing disciplines. In fact, its focus on compelling content is a good thing for all elements of the marketing mix, with ample scope for repurposing great content across multiple channels. Which means you can’t manage social media as an outlier.
The balance between the various elements of the mix will undoubtedly change over time (but not as fast as the charlatans would suggest) but right now, you need to ensure you integrate.
Social Media Success = Content + Engagement + Integration
Don’t listen to the siren songs of the charlatans. Quick fixes don’t create lasting value. But if you identify with your target audience and generate compelling content - and integrate business social media with the rest of your marketing mix - you’ll be well on your way to realising its true potential.