Why being useful is the start of good social media storytelling
I was running a workshop earlier this week teaching a group of professionals how to “think like editors” and by doing so, start creating stories and content that have value and are useful to social media audiences.
It’s a course I’ve run many times and, as with anything you do a lot, it’s easy to become a bit complacent. So, when it came to the part of the workshop where I try to demystify the new buzzword platforms and networks that are springing up, I felt pretty calm answering everyone’s questions until someone asked: “So I’ve been hearing a lot about Pinterest. That’s just about images, right?”
“Oh, yes, just images,” I said with the confidence of a man who had spent the previous evening engaged in some hardcore “pinning”.
Wrong. It turns out this hottest of hot new social networks has been offering video pinning since last August.
Why this self-indulgent minor mea culpa? Well, part of my job is to keep on top of the latest social technologies, platforms and apps. So if I’m making such a social media geek schoolboy error about a network as influential as Pinterest, how can more “normal” folk hope to navigate the increasingly Byzantine social tech landscape, never mind use them effectively for sustainability communications?
At the same time, a host of once adventurous and much loved social media platforms – ventures such as Flickr, Delicious, Gowalla (which was shut down in March) and Ning to name a few – have waned in popularity, been subsumed by other companies or simply crashed and burned.
In this disruptive media landscape it would be very easy to bury your head in the sand, wait until everything settles down and some new social media king of the jungle emerges. Except that isn’t going to happen. So, given that you can’t depend on your online community coming to visit your corporate website (seriously). And given that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in that Facebook basket (seriously), where should sustainability communicators be looking establish a social media voice?
Some of the biggest and most successful social media brands advocate being wherever their customers are. That’s understandable if you’re a major consumer brand such as Ford or Pepsico who have established social media satellites on many different platforms and networks. But does that approach necessarily make sense if you’re selling laundry detergent, banking or energy services?
One way of determining where your social media voice should be is first to work out what you have to say and how it can be of value, useful even, to the social media communities you want to connect to.
Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, Tumbler, even Facebook have trendy techie names. Fundamentally though, they are just publishing platforms, albeit ones that specialise in video, words and images and are either more broadcast or conversational depending on the platform. Once you know the story you want to tell and understand the interests of the platform community, then you can start fine tuning and packaging that story to work across relevant social media.
That’s why Whole Foods chose to highlight the work of its Whole Planet Foundation on Pinterest and why UPS chose to created a dedicated (and “likeable”) sustainability page on Facebook. It’s also why the likes of Suncor, Iberdrola and even the IFC and GRI are using professional document and presentation sharing sites such as Issuu, Slideshare and Scribd to reach their target sustainability communities.
The more sustainability professionals use social media outside of work, the more likely they’ll be to experiment with social channels and platforms for sustainability communications. But choosing the hottest new channel or biggest network is no guarantee of social media success. Understanding how sustainability stories might be of value to different and particular social media communities is a much better place to start.
This column first ran in the The Guardian.