Social Media Is My Frenemy

photo(1002)I’ve been called a social media expert: This AL.com and Birmingham News story called me a “digital muse,” and local social media guru Wade Kwon wrote about me in his ebook, Social Media Stars of Birmingham. I’m consistently asked to participate in social media contests to “prove” my social media prowess, I’ll admit that I’ve had more than one job title that included the term “social media,” and I’m the first to pull out my phone when I think something should be shared with my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+ followers. But that doesn’t mean I like it. Actually, I’m annoyed with social media a lot of the time. Social media is a tool like any other. A hammer is good when it helps you build a house, bad when you use it to smash in the IKEA shelf that’s way too frustrating to assemble, and really annoying when your 8-year-old neighbor has his iPod taken away and registers his protest by methodically hammering against the metal porch railing. Unfortunately, business owners are encouraged to tweet like that kid on the porch. We’re told that we have to keep pounding to send an effective message, that we need more tweets, more likes, more followers, higher stats. I’m not sure this metrics-driven communication is really effective. For the past two years, I’ve been running the social media for Church Street Coffee & Books, a coffee shop/bookstore that I co-own. I also work at the shop, and that means I have personal, face-to-face connections with our social media followers every day. What I’ve learned is that the posts that have the highest number of likes aren’t the ones that generate the highest traffic or the most sales. The customers that come in and order “the Facebook drink,” referring to whatever picture I’ve just posted on social media, are rarely the ones who clicked like on the post. The posts that drive high sales often have small numbers of likes, and the posts with high likes often don’t mean big sales. That’s not to say that metrics don’t help us get an idea of who’s following our businesses and what they’re looking for — of course they do. But the stats are only one part of the image, and we’re pretending they’re the whole picture. I have a relatively small number of Twitter followers (well, around 500 — but that’s small for a so-called social media expert), but those people are engaged with me and my businesses. They’re not junk followers. They are real people who read my blogs, buy from my store, and engage with me about social issues. They include tastemakers and journalists who are likely to spread my message when they agree with it. To me, a small number of engaged followers is better than a big number of professional Twitterers. I’m not saying that we should ignore numbers, just that we shouldn’t let them totally determine our message. Social media is a tool — let’s be more intentional about what we build with it. Carrie Rollwagen is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Alabama.

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