[Editor's note: The following is based on actual events:]
“Maybe it’s a generational thing, I dunno,” said Sam. “I intuitively get it, but for some reason, I just can’t get it like you’ve gotten it.”
I leaned forward, looked down, lightly stroking my goatee, and paused…thinking for a moment. Well, actually, that wasn’t really true. I was pretending to ponder something.
Finally, I said “Well, I don’t think you intuitively get it then.”
“What do you mean?” he replied, looking puzzled. And perhaps a bit miffed.
“I feel like you overcomplicate this whole idea of social media. Frankly, it’s a big defeat for me that I have failed to help you understand the one central tenet of the whole frickin’ thing,” I replied, going so far as to lightly pound the table. Because you know, that adds dramatic impact.
“It’s so simple. You realize, of course, that there’s a person on the other side of that avatar, right?” I wasn’t trying to make a point, I was really asking, wondering, if that connection had been made in his head…
“All you have to do is review your personal Twitter stream, Sam. It doesn’t take long to observe that all you do is push your content. That’s all you do. Nothing else. You are using it solely as a media distribution machine.”
I paused for a moment, this time for dramatic effect, “I mean, don’t you see that’s like sitting down with a human being face-to-face, not letting him talk, not letting him offer his own ideas, hell, not even letting him speak?”
This time he scratched his face, but didn’t say anything. Until after a few seconds, “I get it. I get it.”
“But you aren’t using it that way. You’ve told me time and again that this stuff is boring, that it’s work, that it’s a chore,” I stopped to take a breath, pausing again, “Well shoot, if all you do is push media, yeah, no wonder it is work.”
“I’ve seen you in social situations. I have observed you actually strike up conversations with real humans. I know you can do it,” I added, laughing a bit, hoping to lighten the mood.
But I was finding myself feeling angry about this. I don’t consider myself the smartest guy in the world, just a humble, quiet guy trying to make it in the world. But it was very frustrating to me how difficult this simple concept was for many to understand.
“Look, I’m not saying there isn’t value in promoting your work. That’s certainly one of the opportunities behind social media, but it sure isn’t the single purpose,” I added.
“But all you’ve got to do is connect with people you care about, prospects, customers, friends, family, thought leaders, people who influence you,” I said. “Then you sit back, put up your feet, drink some coffee, and watch them say things. Watch them do things. Watch them promote things. Watch them comment on current events. Just look for opportunities to reply and engage.”
I paused for a moment, trying to buy some time to let that sink in.
“Stop thinking about strategy. Stop thinking about the appropriate network. Stop thinking about frickin’ ROI. And for God’s sake, stop thinking about the time it takes,” I begged.
“This isn’t about time. This is about connecting to people. Engaging with them. Learning from them. You don’t fuss at me about the time you spend making countless phone calls and leaving voicemails that are rarely returned. What’s the ROI on that time?”
“No,” I said, “This is about connecting with the human on the other side of that avatar. Nothing more, nothing less. And like any successful endeavor, you have to sustain the effort over the long haul and put in a little time each day…that’s when the payoff comes.”
I leaned back in my chair. I was done. Spent.
“Yeah, ok, I get it,” Sam said.
I smiled, nodded, and said “Good. I hope so.”
I ran my fingers through my hair, and organized some notes for an upcoming meeting. But I knew. I knew that likely nothing had changed. Sam and I have had this conversation before you see.
But I hoped he’d invest the time to really try to connect with someone, and see that relationship blossom into something. As far as I could tell, he’d never accomplished it before. But I wasn’t sure he ever really made the effort.
Some day, I thought, he might really get it. Then everything changes…
[Editor’s note: The names have been changed to protect the innocent. To learn more about the conversational side of modern digital marketing, you had better join my list. You can do that here.]
Drawing by Hugh.