The internet is full of ‘top tips’ and ‘how to’ lists for social media – the 16 rules of Facebook etiquette, 10 social media trends for 2015, 7 tips that will make you awesome at Twitter. You get the idea. Whilst I’ve been hooked in and read many of these lists (and written some myself), I’ve noticed that I’ve started to glaze over when I read them. In fact, I’ve started to glaze over when I see a number or the word ‘tips’ in a news article or blog post title.
The problem isn’t just that these lists are all (mostly) saying the same thing, it’s that these lists offer false promise. They offer the promise that at the end of a 10 point list you will somehow be transformed into a better social media manager or communications officer than you were before. And what I’ve realised is that this just isn’t true. You can ask as many questions, write as many lists and post as many videos as you like – it might even gain you lots of follows and it might make you better at your job. But it won’t make you truly awesome at what you do.
What makes someone great at social media or communications is intuition (and a smidgen of courage).
I was reminded of this a while ago when I saw this tweet from @WstonesOxfordSt:
It would be so easy for a nationwide bookstore like Waterstones to play it safe and churn out trite content, but the tweet above shows what can happen when you get inventive and have some guts. As you can see, the tweet has had hundreds of retweets. Not only is the comment from @WstonesOxfordSt funny, but you’d be hard pressed to find a ‘top tips’ list that tells you to share spam content. Clearly the @BookQuotesHere account has been hacked and a lot of people would probably simply unfollow the account and think nothing more of it. But the person managing the Twitter account for Waterstones Oxford Street has good intuition. They saw an opportunity and went with it.
Another reason I dislike lists of advice on the type of content to post on social media, is that they assume we have it all figured out. Of course there are lots of people crunching the numbers, telling us what sort of content works. But that’s not to say that something new might not work in the future. Social media exists in a cultural context that is constantly shifting. What works now, might not work tomorrow. It’s people who think outside the lists that shift the boundaries of what is conceived of as “good practice”.
It is also the people who think outside the lists that create the most unique, engaging and surprising content. The last of these three might be the most important of all. I live in Amsterdam and one of my favourite things to do at the weekend is to go for a walk around the city. Not only is Amsterdam a beautiful city but it is also full of surprises. I might turn the corner to find an unusual piece of graffiti, a band playing in an empty square, or a shop full of dusty glassware. The city isn’t this way because someone in the 16th century wrote a list of top tips for building a great city. It is this way because of human inventiveness, creativity and curiosity.
I want my experience of Twitter to be more like my experience of Amsterdam (and less like trying to navigate the roundabouts of Swindon). So, here’s my list:
- Throw out all the lists.