There’s a lot of conversation made in social media marketing circles about how to “build an audience,” “grow your personal brand,” and other fancy ways of saying, “become important to people who don’t know you yet.”
The amount of tactical advice is dizzying, and it changes too frequently to keep up:
- Use images in your social media posts
- Use images with text overlays
- Just post plain text, forget the images
- Ask questions and engage!
- Post 3-5 times per week on Tuesdays when it’s raining in Cleveland (you get my drift)
One thing is constant. For you to become important to people who don’t know you yet, you need to be discovered by people who don’t know you yet. And for that to happen, you need the help of the social networks, whose sole purpose is to put your content in front of someone else, again and again as they scroll down their newsfeeds.
Social networks define success by consistently providing value to their users. But value is subjective. Heck, importance is subjective. So, the networks need data points that they can assign to “value and importance.”
Enter our friends, the social signals. There are five of them:
- Reshare (I’m passing your post along to my network as-is)
- Reshare + Intro (I’m passing your post along to my network but adding my thoughts)
- Original Post (I’m sharing my thoughts with my network directly)
Think about it: when you read an important article, what do you do? Post it.
When you see something funny or important in your social feeds that you want to quickly pass along, what do you do? Reshare it.
When someone’s post or comment was interesting or valuable to you, what do you do? Like or comment.
Social signals are how these networks measure value and importance.
This sounds very 2009, I know. You’re thinking, “So the more likes my post about corporate training gets, the more likely I am to show up in searches for corporate trainers?”
No. The calculations are obviously more complicated and multi-layered than that. A “like” is a signal, but the placement of that like can send different information back to the social network about what was valuable or important to you. Similarly, comments send more complex signals back to the social networks, because they have the ability to deepen the conversation and knowledge around the piece of information that was shared. Shares are even more complex, because they can invite other participants to signal value and importance by dividing a conversation into multiple threads.
As you can imagine, I believe that social networks weigh each of the five social signals differently. It makes sense when you think about the level of effort involved in each signal. I would argue that the more effort it takes someone to send a social signal, the more value and importance they are placing on that signal.
Social signals are a spectrum of endorsement
Another way to look at the weight of social signals is to consider each one of them an endorsement. And let’s be clear, I’m not talking about endorsements from a disclosure standpoint. I just like how the word fits into my discussion on this topic.
Anyway, much of our activity within social networks is used to create “stories” in other people’s feeds. Think about those little activity headers you often see just above a social post:
“Jeff liked this” or “Retweeted by Rob”
I may not have seen those two posts if Jeff and Rob didn’t interact with them on their own social streams. But their social signals acted as a pseudo-share to put content in front of me by way of their activity on that content.
The theory is that if it was important enough to Jeff and Rob to expend the level of effort required to engage with those posts, those posts could be important or valuable to me. That’s why I see them in my social stream. They’re essentially taking responsibility for putting that story in front of me, like if they were to share it.
This is why I feel all social signals – not just shares – count as endorsements.
Using social signals to become valuable and important
Until now, we’ve explored the idea of social signals, and how social networks use that data to build a profile of what might be valuable and important to us. We talked about how some social signals require more level of effort than others, and as a result should be weighted differently when being used as data.
If you’re still with me, I’d love to show you what all of this means as it relates to the original point of “becoming important to people who don’t know you yet.”
Please forgive me while I use a crap-ton of buzzwords.
Every day, as you “grow your personal brand” on social media, you are sending signals. You’re spending time engaging with your network, building an audience by sharing your unique point of view (context), and connecting with influencers on content that aligns with your subject matter expertise.
In other words, all that sucking up you’re doing by liking, commenting, and sharing is actually worth it. Don’t stop. Although you might want to refine your tactics based on three more layers of social engagement.
Content – Everything we endorse via social signals is content in some form. But when we talk about content, we are mostly talking about the posts that people share, on which other people like, comment, and reshare. A few things to keep in mind:
- The person who created the post owns it, and essentially plays dinner party host to everyone who engages with it.
- All the engagement on that post can be seen by onlookers who discover it in some way.
- Those onlookers may find value in the post as a whole (or specific people who have engaged with it), and choose to follow them for ongoing value.
Context – The comments, replies, liked comments, and @mentions create a more complete picture of the conversation happening around a piece of content on social. Here’s a huge opportunity to demonstrate why and how you can be valuable and important.
Network – I mentioned above that all content is owned by someone. If I created a post on LinkedIn, my network is the one most likely to interact with it and see all the context I’ve added. Conversely, if I commented on someone else’s LinkedIn post, their network is the one most likely to benefit from my context.
Social Engagement Matrix
We’ve now uncovered four layers that impact how each of our social signals can contribute to becoming important and valuable to people who don’t know us yet. Content, Context, Network, and Effort. When plotted against the five social signals, you get what I call the Social Engagement Matrix:
|Like||Comment||Reshare||Reshare + Intro||Original Post|
|Context||None||Yours||Theirs||Theirs + Yours||Yours|
As you step through the table, you can see:
- Who owns the social post (and benefits from the collective signals)
- Whose context is highlighted by each signal
- Whose network is exposed to your signals
- How much effort is expended to create that signal
I said at the beginning that for you to become important to people who don’t know you yet, you need to be discovered by people who don’t know you yet. Take a look at the matrix. Notice a sweet spot?
Commenting on the right social media posts gives you the best chance to demonstrate your value to an audience that you don’t have, and to eventually attract and retain that audience as your own. Commenting is also easy and won’t take up too much time. As a bonus, commenting keeps you involved in conversations that could deepen your own knowledge about topics you care about.
Put simply, commenting is how to make social networking actually feel social.
I encourage you to really think about the intent behind the social signals you send. Each one has tactical benefits and a place in your overall strategy of how to become important and valuable to people who don’t know you yet.