May 6, 2011

One Size Doesn't Fit All

You’ve seen those awkward updates on Facebook – short fragments via Tweetdeck with a string of Twitter “#hashtags.” You’ve seen them on Twitter – long ones that are cut off mid-sentence and followed by a Facebook URL. You’ve seen the off-topic tweets in your LinkedIn feed about the latest MBA trade or the latest political scandal. You’ve seen the endless and ubiquitous Foursquare check-ins to cafes and bars and conferences. And you’ve seen the tone-deaf pre-scheduled tweets about marketing that keep automatically popping up while the entire Twitter world is reacting to something timely and important, like an earthquake or an election.

While it may seem like a clever way to save time and make your content do double (and sometimes quadruple) duty, using tools that automatically cross-post the same content to different social media channels is not a smart business move.

What’s wrong with cross posting? Why not take advantage of applications like Tweetdeck that let you post from multiple accounts with a single keystroke? Why not link your Twitter account to your Facebook and LinkedIn feeds? Why not send new blog activity directly to Twitter? Or create editorial calendars and use a tool like CoTweet to schedule all your updates one to two months in advance?

Inappropriate cross posting undermines the purpose — and the value — of using social media in the first place, which is to create communities for your business and engage authentically with your customers, potential customers, colleagues, partners, and peers.

Each social media platform has its own character and its own community etiquette and protocols. Your blog is a forum where you can express what’s on your mind and what you think your community will find valuable or debatable. Facebook is a great way to engage a community that already likes and supports you and provide that community with visually rich content. LinkedIn is your “business news wire,” a great tool for letting your business networks know about your company’s — and your own — successes. And Twitter is a virtual networking party: a place to engage with new contacts as well as established ones.

When you send telegraphic tweets to Facebook, instead of taking the time to communicate directly with your Facebook community, you are saying that that community is not something you value enough to truly engage with. When you cross-post from Facebook to Twitter, you are telling the Twitter community you haven’t bothered to show up and log on. When you automatically send an endless stream of off-topic tweets to LinkedIn, you are telling important business contacts that you don’t respect their time. When you schedule updates in advance, you are missing valuable opportunities to demonstrate your business’ value in real-time and respond to real-time events. And the fact that you just became the mayor of Starbucks is – face it! – a private matter between you and your barista and not something your business network wants to see cluttering up its feeds.

When you automate and cross-post, you are demonstrating “poor citizenship” in the various social communities you’ve joined. And you are revealing to your communities that you are on automatic pilot, that you are not really there engaging with them but, instead, just flooding their inboxes with one-way communication. Treating social media like another direct mail channel is — to put it simply — a waste of each platform’s potential.

Of course there are some exceptions: content that is appropriate to post on all your social media platforms – short updates announcing a speaking engagement or a new blog post, for instance. But even if you are using a tool like Tweetdeck or CoTweet to post to multiple social media sites, taking a few minutes to customize each update – brief and punchy for Twitter, more inclusive and engaging for Facebook, “Business Casual” for LinkedIn — makes a world of difference. It tells each of those communities that you “get it,” that you understand the etiquette, that you value their eyes and their time and their feedback, that you are an active, transparent, and authentic participant.

Just like “bespoke” clothes have much more value than “off the rack” ones do, “bespoke” social media updates will create much more value for you and your community than “one size fits all” updates. If you take the extra time to put your best foot forward and use social media tools well, engaging appropriately to each platform in real time, you will earn your communities’ trust and respect and create tremendous value for your business. Make sure that each of your updates is appropriate to the platform and has value for that particular community and your community will return the favor with value for you.

This post was commissioned by British Airways. The opinions are my

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