By Aaron Lazenby on Dec 11, 2012
On November 14, I traveled to Las Vegas for the first-ever Oracle Social Media Summit. The two day event featured an impressive collection of social media luminaries including: David Kirkpatrick (founder and CEO of Techonomy Media and author of The Facebook Effect), John Yi (Head of Marketing Partnerships, Facebook), Matt Dickman (EVP of Social Business Innovation, Weber Shandwick), and Lyndsay Iorio (Social Media & Communications Manager, NBC Sports Group) among others. It was also a great opportunity to talk shop with some of our new Vitrue and Involver colleagues who have been returning great social media results even before their companies were acquired by Oracle.
I was live tweeting the event from @OracleProfit which was great for those who wanted to follow along with the proceedings from the comfort of their office or blackjack table. But I've also found over the years that live tweeting an event is a handy way to take notes: I can sift back through my record of what people said or thoughts I had at the time and organize the Twitter messages into some kind of summary account of the proceedings. I've had nearly a month to reflect on the presentations and conversations at the event and a few key topics have emerged:
David Kirkpatrick's comment during the opening presentation really set the stage for the conversations that followed. Especially if you are a marketer or publisher, the idea that you are in a one-way broadcast relationship with your audience is a thing of the past. "Rising above the noise" does not mean reaching for a megaphone, ALL CAPS, or exclamation marks. Hype will not motivate social media denizens to do anything but unfollow and tune you out. But knowing your audience, creating quality content and/or offers for them, treating them with respect, and making an authentic effort to please them: that's what I believe is now necessary. And Kirkpatrick's comment early in the day really made the point.
Later in the day, our friends @Vitrue demonstrated this point by elaborating on a comment by Facebook's John Yi. If a social strategy is comprised of nothing more than cutting/pasting the same message into different social media properties, you're missing the opportunity to have an actual conversation. That's not shouting at your audience, but it does feel like an empty gesture.
Walter Benjamin, perplexed by auraless Twitter messages
Not to get too far afield, but 20th century cultural critic Walter Benjamin has a concept that is useful for understanding the dynamics of the empty social media gesture: Aura. In his work The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin struggled to understand the difference he percieved between the value of a hand-made art object (a painting, wood cutting, sculpture, etc.) and a photograph. For Benjamin, aura is similar to the "soul" of an artwork--the intangible essence that is created when an artist picks up a tool and puts creative energy and effort into a work. I'll defer to Wikipedia:
"He argues that the "sphere of authenticity is outside the technical" so that the original artwork is independent of the copy, yet through the act of reproduction something is taken from the original by changing its context. He also introduces the idea of the "aura" of a work and its absence in a reproduction."
So make sure you put aura into your social interactions. Don't just mechanically reproduce them.
Keeping aura in your interactions requires the intervention of an actual human being. That's why @NoahHorton's comment about content curation struck me as incredibly important. Maybe it's just my own prejudice, being in the content curation business myself. And it's not to totally discount machine-aided content management systems, content recommendation engines, and other tech-driven tools for building an exceptional content experience.
It's just that without that human interaction--that editor who reviews the analytics and responds to user feedback--interactions over social media feel a bit empty. It is SOCIAL media, right? (We'll leave the conversation about social machines for another day).
At the end of the day, experimentation is key. Just like trying to find that right joke to tell at the beginning of your presentation or that good opening like at a cocktail party, social media messages and interactions can take some trial and error. Don't be afraid to try things, tinker with incomplete ideas, abandon things that don't work, and engage in the conversation. And make sure your heart is in it, otherwise your audience can tell.