People are social creatures. Since birth you have presumably been interacting with the people around you, bonding first with your Mother and then developing relationships with the people around you through the course of your life. This behaviour isn’t limited to humans either. Birds do it, bees do it, an argument could even be made that trees do it. It’s our nature and it’s also the reason that Social Media has taken off as it has. It’s an extension of the things we do every day.
If ‘social’ is in our nature, why does it feel like there are so many people offering to help us or our businesses socialize online? I think part of the answer to that is due to the technological age of the services. If the web has just taken the training wheels off, social sites are still in diapers. New services beget new services and there’s no shortage of good-intentioned people willing to offer advice on how to ‘get on the new train and ride’.
I won’t speak in absolutes here but it seems to me that if we can agree that people are social animals and have been since birth, there is no reason to believe that a business’s approach to Social Media should be different from what they already know. Social Media best practice seems to assert that you should follow the social norms that we already abide. If someone is talking to you, listen and respond. If someone is looking for help, offer your assistance. As far as I can tell, these are the two most common bits of advice offered up. It isn’t magic, it’s common sense. Be ‘social’.
Here’s an interesting thought though. Google’s on Twitter (3,737,560 followers of @google), but they don’t talk to anyone. There is no back and forth on their channel, only output. Apple’s on Twitter by way of @iTunesMusic (1,328,172 followers as of this post) and follows much the same practice, only retweeting artists and pushing promotions or new releases. There is no conversation here. And here’s the thing, that’s all most would want from them. Twitter is not a support channel for Apple or Google, it’s a promotion channel and there is nothing wrong with that. There is no reason to say either are doing it wrong though to listen to some, they are doing everything wrong.
The important thing to realize here is that because of Social Media’s infancy, there are no right or wrong answers. There is no best practice outside of what you, the social animal, already know. All the other stuff is still being learned as ‘we’ go along. You are already on the new train because it’s the same as the old train. If your business is on Twitter or Facebook and you don’t know how to interact with your customers there, you probably don’t need a ‘Social Media Expert’, you more likely need a psychiatrist.