Recently, the nation’s most popular all-sports network, ESPN, fired baseball analyst and former pitcher Curt Schilling following a controversial and inflammatory post on FacebookFree at iTunes Store. The incident highlights the fine line we all must walk when using social media to build awareness and promote our brands, services, and products.
One big challenge is standing out. Not only is vanilla a fairly boring ice cream flavor, it’s also a social media sleeping pill. If all of your posts are vanilla, the only person interested in them will be your grandmother. Actually, strike that, because your grandmother probably isn’t on most social media platforms. So, to generate attention, you need to say something interesting. One type of interesting is actualnews, with strong emphasis on new. Problem is, unless you dedicate time to discovering real news, someone else is always going to post first. Another route is to post something with a bit of scandal or shock value. Thirdly, you can use social media to inspire and uplift those around you.
Shock and Applause
I learned what shock jocks knew long before I even knew what a shock jock was. Flash back to my sophomore year of high school—my first year writing for the high school newspaper, The Bulldog, Mount Vernon High School’s premier bi-weekly. (I’m sure you’ve heard of it.) I wrote a full year of forgettable articles. Then something unplanned and unexpected happened. In Edition 1 of my junior year, I wrote an article criticizing golfers and tennis players for expecting silence while playing. Albeit naïve, my 16-year-old criticism was genuine. I never anticipated the result. Virtually overnight, I was the talk of the school. (Go figure.) The #1 seed on the varsity tennis team—a state champ—hated me. The non-jocks loved me. And I was addicted to the attention. Every other week, when the next edition came out, my column was the lunchroom buzz. No one was spared, but the vitriol was never stronger than when I criticized the high school band for skipping a basketball game.
These days, with the advent of the internet and social media, everyone has a larger soapbox from which to shout. But, as more people have more channels and more reach, it grows harder and harder to be heard. In an effort to elevate their messages a few decibels above the daily din, some resort to inflammatory posts. In the case of Schilling, whether he was trying to be seditious for the sake of getting attention, or whether he was posting a genuine opinion, the result was the same: termination.
Be the Bigger Microblogger
I said there were three ways to garner interest. One was news, but your odds of posting something truly fresh and new are small, so we’ll pass on that as a primary recommendation. Next was shock talk, but if you take that route, eventually you’re going to go too far and the results could devastate your brand. Which brings us to a third option. If shock talk is the low road, the third option is the high road.
The third way to generate interest is the nice way. People—and not just “people” in general but your customers and potential customers—want to be entertained and inspired. Through your use of social media, you have a unique opportunity to uplift and inspire those around you. In the process, your efforts might just go viral.
I’m reminded of a Guinness commercial from the fall of 2013. If you’ve seen it, all I need to say is “a group of guys in wheelchairs playing basketball,” and you’ll remember it. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it for you. You can see it embedded below.
Another commercial that comes to mind is a 2015 Super Bowl ad entitled “Like a Girl.” In both instances, even before posting links on my Twitter account for the purposes of this article, I shared links with friends and family—something I otherwise seldom do. Why? Because the 60 seconds I spent watching each enriched my life. I came away…inspired.
If you want to garner interest from social media, seek to entertain (in a positive way) and inspire. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you get started:
1. Convey Energy and Passion
Let’s face it: On a daily basis, most of us live somewhat mundane lives. I am not trying to be negative and I’m not trying to say that your life, or mine, isn’t valuable. But how often do any of us observe someone who is committed to, and excited and energized by, something they are doing at the moment? Compare that with those times when we’ve seen someone really passionate about something. Their passion is infectious. We feel alive.
2. Details, Details, Details
Quotes are one way to inspire. Another way is through inspiring and engaging stories. But you not only need a story, you need to improve your storytelling skills. One characteristic of great storytelling is details, details, details. Names. Places. Descriptions. Draw your audience in and engage them with details.
3. Utilize Cliffhangers
Television shows create end-of-season cliffhangers for one reason: they work. They work not only because they leave the audience waiting for closure, but also because time passes between conflict and resolution, building interest and tension. I admit I use this technique sometimes at the end of business meetings and phone calls—referencing a story, lesson, or other item with just enough detail to whet the other person’s appetite and leave them wanting more. Look for ways to create your own cliffhangers through social media.
4. Promote a Cause
To an extent, most of us are motivated by self-interest (some more so, some less). That makes it all the more intriguing and inspiring when we see others spend their time and energy on causes conveying selflessness. For me, my cause is theFibromuscular Dysplasia Society of America (FMDSA). Five years ago, I almost died as the result of a genetic condition (FMD) affecting the carotid artery in my neck. FMDSA is a little-known, underfunded nonprofit trying to build awareness for the disease. Since then, I’ve looked for ways to not only promote my business but promote FMDSA. It doesn’t matter what your cause is. Promote it. Your audience may be inspired and you may do some extra good in the process.
5. Learn from Tinseltown
Here’s your homework: Go watch some inspiring “based on a real story” movies. Now, granted, it’s debatable how closely these movies are actually based on the real story. (That’s a pet peeve for another column.) Your homework is to watch those movies and look for the storytelling techniques used to generate interest, tension, intrigue, and inspiration. Likely you will observe an underdog, impossible odds, unbelievable commitment and effort, a point at which all hope looks lost, and ultimate success. It’s time to base your own real story on Hollywood.
These are just a few examples of things you can start to do to inspire through social media. Take the high road. Hopefully you will both build awareness for your brand, product, or service, while uplifting others in the process. I’ll let you decide which is the more valuable accomplishment.