Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why You Won't Find Answers on Twitter and Facebook

As kids and teens, my brother and I used to occasionally accompany my dad to printing shows, as that was his industry. While there we'd grab a number of printed posters and see quite a few of my dad's colleagues. Me, being aloof, could never remember a person from one year to the next, but my brother had this wonderful inate ability to know a person's name, face and even something about them. One year, as a baby-faced teen, he asked my dad's colleague about his daughter.

"That kid's a natural salesman," my dad's colleague commented. Before you joke, he meant it as a compliment.

It wasn't that my brother understood how to sell. He didn't memorize reams of data about a particular product or have a knack for showing it off, but he could naturally relate to any individual through information.

Flash forward a few years and I'm a Resident Adviser at Brandeis when the head of Residence Life tells us her secret for making people think she knows everything. Before going in to bust a suite for illegal activity (like drinking) she would have information on the oldest person living in the suite, just their name and birth date. Then she'd say "I know no one in this dorm is legally able to drink until Bob turns 21 on March 3rd." Everyone would freeze and think she knew everything. She built a reputation for omnicience. Really, this information was readily available to administrators and she just read it before walking in. Neat trick.

This is what makes Twitter and Facebook so valuable. It gives you the information you need to make personal connections. I'm not suggesting you fake your way through these connections and feign interest in things you hate just to do your job, but these tools help you do your job better by allowing you to relate to people, not to products. The best part: people give you the information.

Too often when people ask about social media tools they want a quick fix. PR people want to know if the reporters they are following will say "today I'm writing as story about mobile media tools, can anyone help?" and then they want to be able pitch.

Sorry, it doesn't work like that. What you get is a little knowledge about someone that can help you forge a better relationship, then you can, by default, do your job better. Maybe that person is an auto entusiast and you know something about cars. Maybe they're a crafter specializing in jewelry-making and you know something about that.

Or, maybe, you can just ask how their daughter is doing.

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