IAN GREENLEIGH

Author | Marketer | Speaker

I help companies turn data, ideas and relationships into reach and influence. 

How to make yourself indispensable with social media

Why should they line up for you?  

in·dis·pen·sa·ble/ˌindiˈspensəbəl/

Adjective:

Absolutely necessary or essential.

Who and what do you consider indispensable? Someone you turn to for advice when you’re not sure which path to take? The cup of coffee that delivers that rush of caffeine to start your day? Your iPhone?

Yes, you could technically survive without these people or things. But your life may be tougher, less fun, and even less fulfilling. That’s the thing about being indispensable: it’s always relative.

Social media can help make you or your company indispensable as a source of…

  • Knowledge
  • Connections
  • Expertise
  • Insight
  • Guidance
  • Perspective
  • Humor
  • Motivation
  • Energy

And a whole lot more. Strive to infuse a few complimentary qualities into your social engagement and content. Knowledge and insight, for instance, go hand in hand.  The best way to choose which qualities to add to the mix is to think about what comes naturally to you, and what people value in their interactions with you. Someone that’s great at introducing people might, then, choose to reflect this ability to connect in their social persona.

Selfish vs. self-interested

After chronicling my “social job search,” I found that what was resonating with people seemed to be a mix of guidance and motivation—something I didn’t expect, given my distaste for self-help books. But I ran with it, and it continued to work. This wasn’t a formula, or recipe—anyone that purports to possess a formula for “success” in any realm should be ignored. What I had found, however, were two truths that are as close to universal as truths get:

  1. People are self-interested. This is reflected in their content consumption and sharing.
  2. Content that benefits consumers will ultimately benefit its creators and distributors.

With few exceptions, the people that get the most out of social media are the ones that consistently deliver something of value to their audience. The most popular homemade videos on YouTube make people laugh. Or they help people. I recall being surprised at the number of views—often in the hundreds of thousands—of the videos I would watch when learning to shave with a straight blade razor. But should I have really been surprised? These videos solve problems that people have in their lives, no matter how small that problem may seem to an outsider. Sitting there with a face full of cuts and a new razor, I turned to these videos for help, as did hundreds of thousands with the same problem. In that moment, the problem loomed large, and the solution was in reach.

If we consume content that helps us in some way, what motivates us to share it? A study by The New York Times and Latitude Research asked this question, and found five general motivations for sharing, three of which are fundamentally self-interested.

  1. We share to bring valuable and entertaining content to others (mostly altruistic)
  2. We share to define ourselves to others, and to receive social validation (mostly self-interested)
  3. We share to strengthen and nourish our relationships with one another (mostly self-interested)
  4. We share for self-fulfillment—“We enjoy getting credit for it” (mostly self-interested)
  5. We share to advocate for causes we believe in, and less commonly, brands we want to support (mostly altruistic)

The lesson here is simple: to become indispensable, become a source of content that fulfills as many of these motivations as possible, as thoroughly as possible. A few examples:

  • @breakingnews has over 4 million Twitter followers because it provides news alerts before they become mainstream knowledge. It creates no original content of its own (besides the tweets), and links to a wide array of sources.
  • “Dad blogger” Ron Mattocks has earned high-profile speaking invitations, a book deal, guest columns, and media appearances, because his Clark Kent’s Lunchbox blog helps other dads be better parents.
  • Ex-accountant Therese Schwenkler saw a profound need for a source of “non-sucky” advice for young people like herself, so she decided to create it. Her blog The Unlost is a source of inspiration and guidance for thousands, and along the way she’s finding answers to her own questions.
  • Kate Spade New York realized that people wanted a “peek of what it’s like to work at Kate Spade, and an inside look in the fashion industry,” so they made it the focus of their blog. “I think there are a lot of women that aspire to live interesting lives, and they can experience that in a very authentic way through our blog,” says VP of eCommerce Johanna Murphy.

Self-interest can mutate into selfishness when value is promised and not delivered. Or when people ask for things before they’ve provided much of anything themselves. “Squeeze pages” that require personal information before any value is “dispensed.” A twitter stream that contains only self-promotion. Mass Facebook messages asking for votes from people the sender hasn’t interacted with in months or years. These don’t help anyone but the originator—there is no mutual benefit.

The indispensable person or company understands that their self-interest will be fulfilled only when they fulfill the self-interest of their audience first. Social media offers no shortcuts, but it offers a powerful set of tools for delivering and receiving value.

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© 2016 Ian Greenleigh