Controlling Your Social Media Message
There's a lot of people saying that in the age of social media we can't "control the message." People will say what they want to say about us, and we can't put words in their mouth, so we just need to let go. We need to get over our need for control.
This seems to me to be at odds with most of the tenants of good marketing. The concept that people are talking about you is an old one, and it's encompassed in marketing strategy in the concept of your "brand." Your brand is what people in the world think and say about you. You don't control your brand, you can only try to steer it.
This, to me, parallels the social media world exactly. You can't "control" the message, but you can try to steer it, which is far different than just letting go.
So let's say you're running a campaign. You're trying to get people to stop shopping at a particular store (we'll call it Store Laura). You don't just say "Stop Shopping at Store Laura," hope that people will pass it around on social media, and call it a day. You shape your message and message points, and think through what will be most compelling. You design an ongoing set of communications so there's a stream of information from you to the world. You might create a set of logos, images, videos, that help to create your point. You spread these to your supporters over time with the hope that they'll help pass on the message.
At the point that you've put things into the world, you *will* need to let go a little bit. You can't play the message police if folks are trying to support the campaign and use some non-approved language. But you can continue to put out good and compelling information with the hopes that people will use that more than stuff you really don't agree with.
So what does that mean? I would posit four principles of Steering Your Message with Social Media (because everyone loves a numbered list, right?):
- Design your message to be compelling to a social media audience. If you're hoping people will pass it on, you need to make sure it's interesting to begin with.
- Provide lots of things to let people easily pass on the message. Truthfully, you're likely to have more pretty lazy supporters than ones who will go out of their way to craft new stuff. If you give them lots of interesting things to share and pass on, even different options to choose between, they're more likely to use your own content (which, presumably, is completely aligned to your goals) than make up their own.
- Frame the message to be bigger than just a set of words. You don't want to get bogged down in word choices in the middle of an important campaign. Define the goals and brand attributes so that people can tell their own stories, craft their own clever slogans, or put their own spin on it without "going off message" from your perspective. If they're putting energy towards (in our example) trying to get people from shopping at Store Laura, then unless they're really over the line in some horrible direction, they should be considered on message.
- Let your community help shape the message. If you succeed in getting your community to help you out online, make sure you pay attention to what they're saying. Through words and actions, they're telling you what's compelling and what's likely to stick. Don't push things that no one seems interested in; instead use what seems to resonate to refine the message. And don't be afraid to follow the lead of someone in the community, if they have a great idea. (Of course, ask permission if they've created it themselves).
So it's really not about "letting go of your message." In fact, this set of guidelines depends on crafting your message carefully to begin with, monitoring it over time, and supporting it over time with new content. You certainly need to let people put their own spin on your information, and perhaps revise it, but the old tenants of trying to shepard your brand hold true. You can't control the message, but it's important to nuture and steer it.
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