A Social Media Marketing English Lesson

I am a marketing professor, not an English professor (as one can determine from reading my posts). But, I feel compelled to weigh in on a practice that makes me cringe when I see it occur. Some marketers and individuals misunderstand their role in communities. Social media has empowered the voice of the people, transforming us from "targets" to participants. Unfortunately, some people are stuck in the old mass media model of broadcasting messages. In a world in which social networking sites have elevated second and third-person pronouns to star-of-the-show status, too many brands are still communicating in "I" and "me" terms. If you want to increase the likelihood that your "target market" will tune you out, just keep doing what your are doing.

Align Pronouns with Objectives
If you are not an English professor either, no worries. Let's demystify how to avoid falling in the narcissistic trap of a first-person voice in social media. The voice that you use should be consistent with the objectives for using social media in the first place (you do have objectives, right?). For example, if you have an objective of growing a community around your brand, you do it by focusing on the community instead of you. Think about the person you talk to at a party (or maybe better described as listen to) that only talks about himself. He complains, he brags, he jokes, but he is in control of the conversation. And, you are pretty sure he does not really care about you at all or he may have actually tried to engage you in an actual conversation.

Don't be that guy! The tone of your content should align with your community. Talk about the problems or challenges your community members face. Celebrate their joys and accomplishments. Ask questions to learn more about what is on their minds. Lift up employee success stories. It is not about you, it is about the community. One of my favorite quotes is from John Maxwell, who says "people don't care about how much you know until they know how much you care." Too many social media marketing messages try to show us how much the sender knows rather than conveying care and concern for the community. Social networking is a participation sport. As a marketer you can play, but you are far from the only player in the game.

Don't Ditch First Person 
You do not have to eliminate "I" and "me" from your vocabulary. The point to remember is that when participating in communities we step back from the center of attention to be part of the circle of community members. There are times that you want to assert yourself as a resource (i.e., how much you know); just be careful to avoid that practice being the primary use of social media. Some people might disagree, but social media can be used in pursuit of sales objectives. For example, Panda Express used Facebook to distribute coupons for a free serving of orange chicken, part of a promotion touting the chain's extended summer hours.  

This pronoun dilemma is particularly challenging for individuals looking to build a personal brand. Of course, you need to persuade your audience of your knowledge, capabilities, and value. However, there is a need to stake a balance between asserting brand credibility and fitting in among the community that interacts with your brand.

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