I know by making this statement I’m inviting trouble and expect some kind of debate on the topic from peers in the social media marketing industry. However, the longer I spend in this domain and the more campaigns I’ve witnessed, the surer I become that there is one simple golden rule above all else that is absolutely critical to any initiative by any business on social media…

Be social.

That’s it! As “duh” as this bit of advice seems, to me, this is the one simple rule businesses in particular either fail to follow or simply refuse to follow being blinded by the belief that everything has to be strategic, planned to the core, analysed to a microscopic level and be followed through with pages and pages of reporting metrics. This is the one simple rule I have seen time and again flouted by businesses who invest in every tool possible, spare no cost in “trying to crack” social media marketing, are willing to spend hours on meetings and discussions but still expect to “market” on social media rather than see the medium for what it is.

Now having worked professionally in social media marketing for several years, I do see a value in having metrics. Likewise, I do see a value in having a crystal clear plan, strategy. analyzing everything that is done, and work on improving the approach. I know well that posting at a certain time on a certain platform is likely to have a better reach versus posting at some other time of the day. I also know using certain words in my content is strategically important and makes more sense than using other words that don’t serve my end business goals. However, I also know all these things carry less weight to the process than the most fundamental requirement in getting social media right which is the “actual will to be social” and all the strategy meetings, data you pull, metrics you read through, reports you generate and creative ideas you generate are not going to compensate for the simple fact that social media is not just a marketing medium, it is a place for social interaction, exchange, and two way communication and in any social environment, being social trumps everything else.

Just a few days ago on June 20th, I attended a social media day event organized at a fun trendy bar which serves some really good pan Asian fare. I met a number of really interesting folks there over some yummy appetizers and beer who either walked up and introduced themselves or simply joined into an existing conversation. We shared some stories, traded business cards, personal experiences, some laughs and got to know about what each other did within a social environment. I can think of at least 4-5 people there who I met who I may end up doing some business with in future although I didn’t actively seek them out or try and hard sell my company.

Now imagine if I had profiled the people who attended that event and said since my target buyers are only women over the age of 35, I’m going to ignore everyone else who tries to start a conversation with me. I’m going to craft a very marketing pitch, design a 6 foot banner and hold it up at the event offering people a 20% discount if they come up to me and sign a contract right there at the venue for my company’s services. I expect that 10% of the crowd will be women over thirty, I will make three announcements for my offer at 7:00pm, 8:30pm and 9:00pm because they would have had a few drinks by then. I will make sure I don’t use any millennial terms since my audience is older and I don’t want to appeal to the younger crowd and they are of no use to me. I will close exactly 2 customers on that visit which would give me a 200% ROI because the event and snacks cost me just a third of what I will get back once I am done shouting my announcements while everyone is trying to have a good time.

No one likes the guy who turns up at your child’s birthday party and tries to sell everyone Tupperware like that that was the sole reason they were there for. Then why do so many businesses still insist on following the same approach with social media marketing?

By all means, do a through analysis, put together long term strategies, use complex metrics and reporting tools, invest time, effort and resources in developing a strong social media presence but in all the enthusiasm of trying to get it right, don’t ignore the most fundamental thing social media demands of anyone who is on it…. be social. If you can do just that and do it consistently without the pressure of all the other things a business needs to worry about, it will pay off. It may not tell you in dollars and cents exactly how much it paid of, but at the very least, it will pay off. Without a strong will to actually be social online, you’ll find yourself trying constantly to put a square peg in a round hole.