Social Media: It’s Not About You

Alan Beard
Alan Beard, MPP

Many social media best practices are not much different than dinner party conversation best practices: listen more than you speak, engage in topics that interest your fellow guests, don’t say offensive things that people will repeat and attribute to you, interesting people have the most friends, etc. (feel free to make more comparisons in the comments)

Unfortunately, many companies approach social media with a most-obnoxious-dinner-guests flair: show up late, announce loudly that you’ve arrived and want to have conversations, loudly read press releases about themselves, talk without listening, suddenly go silent for extended periods, try to sell something to everyone who makes eye contact, etc. (again, please add your comparisons below – bonus points if they mention Steve Carell in Dinner for Schmucks)

The question I am most often asked is, “We want to do [hot new social network], but is it possible to make [name of company or product or industry] interesting enough to post about it every single day?”

That question translates as, “What’s the best way to talk about ourselves?”  Us. Us. Us. Me. Me. Me…

Answer: Corporate social media is not about you, it’s about your clients. It’s about your customers. It’s about your audience.

I repeat, for clarity: it’s not about you.

Do you know which online media your desired audience already follows?  Have you asked WHY those people would follow your social media? What are their motivations—to laugh, to learn, to stay in the loop?

Begin by asking, “What does my audience want to share today?” This requires a knowledge of what kind of social media they are sharing already—so listen, watch, track, and join online conversations.  Follow interesting people.  Check out what the top 50 branded Facebook pages are doing to earn their millions of followers.  How is it that five of the top ten are snack foods? Hint: they embrace humor and allow their fans to share the emotional connection they have to their favorite treats.

Most brands struggling for traction in social media are taking themselves way too seriously, and treating social media as just one more channel to disseminate unwanted official announcements.  At a dinner party or in social media, this approach is obnoxious, self-centered, and unlikely to lead to future invitations.


Alan Beard (SC ’94, SPP ’99) is an adjunct professor of marketing strategy at Pepperdine University, principal at social media agency McBeard Media, and co-author of Random House best-seller Historical Tweets: The Completely Unabridged and Ridiculously Brief History of the World.

Author of the article
Alan Beard, MPP
Alan Beard, MPP
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