Social Media Success — Are You Just Waiting To Get Lucky?

According to Wikipedia: ‘Social media uses web-based technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogues’. Now, let’s use the 80/20 rule (actually it’s more like 99/1 rule in this case) and suppose that social media is mostly about:

a) Facebook, Twitter and (almost) everything that has to do with them

b) YouTube and things like citizen journalism

In order to succeed in getting viewers and conversationalists using these mediums, how much skill/luck you need? Is the social media advice you’re given any good? Should you focus more on technology or human psychology in order to understand how things work here? We’ll explore all of these topics below.

Social Media Advice Gone Wrong

There’s been a LOT of advice on social media and how to be successful with it. The latest I’ve seen comes from Mashable on trying to explain why cats go viral, but even the author at the end says:

“We’ve considered cats’ cuteness, non-cuteness, popularity among geeks, blank canvas qualities, personality issues and the fact that dogs just don’t have “it.” So are we any closer to a definitive answer?

Not really, no.”

I’ll cite this article a few more times to demonstrate some of the points I’m going to be making here (nothing against Mashable, just I found their recent post suitable for my article).

Many people are doing a pretty good job in exploring the technology part of social media. How to create groups on Facebook? Checked. How to do advanced stuff in Twitter? Checked. But what most of these publications miss (or cover poorly) is the PSYCHOLOGY side of social media, and without analyzing that side of the coin, you’re just waiting for your technology solution to get lucky and go viral.

Social Media = People = Psychology

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a lot of advice out there on how to use technology to win in social media. I think technology is important but not nearly as important as understanding human psychology. On that field, there’s very little (credible) advice. I’m astounded by the amount of junk advice out there that has to do with stuff like ‘motivating crowds and your prospects’, ‘is sex working in social media’ and so on. There’s a lot of very popular blogs, actually, who regularly publish these types of posts (I don’t want to mention any names, just to let you know that junk social media psychology is tends to be a popular topic r these days).

On the other hand, there’s some quite useful and credible advice out there that can improve your probability of social media success. For example, this study [beware, PDF file :) ) that investigates some of the reasons why people use Facebook. For example, one of the major reasons why people go on Facebook, according to the study, is “finding out what old friends are doing now”.

Now, let’s say you’re a web developer and want to make use of this information. You could make an app that takes the most recent wall posts of someone’s friends, analyzes the words and groups them in categories like ‘sad’, ‘angry’, ‘happy’ etc. You could name the app something like ‘How are your friends feeling today?” While I’m not sure such an app is possible due to Facebook privacy settings changing constantly, I think you get the idea. Credible studies have the potential to dramatically increase your chances of success because you’ll understand what’s actually going on in social media.

About the Mashable post I’ve mentioned earlier, the author cites several writers and their thoughts on why cats images work on the internet in order to make his points. Maybe that’s the best kind of evidence that cats images work on the Internet? Actually, if you’ve read “Made to Stick” (or this post of my giving overview of the principles), you might realize that a lot of principles are present when it comes to funny pictures with cats. The pictures are very simple and make a very simple point (cats talking funny stuff), it’s unexpected (cats talking?), very emotional (many people feel an emotion upon seeing a cute cat along) and the whole picture is a small story upon itself (especially with the LOLCats from icanhascheezburger).

What About Luck?

When it comes to human psychology and social media, you can’t really predict everything with precision so luck plays a role here. Don’t blame yourself if a social media campaign doesn’t work as supposed. But if you haven’t read some of the latest findings on usability, psychology of crowds or influence then you’re drastically decreasing your chances of success. So take a look and explore some of these studies/research and I bet you’ll also probably find them interesting and useful at the same time.

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