The Cocktail Party That is Social Networking

By David Ortega

You know the scene. Looking your absolute best, you enter a crowded room full of a multitude of people you’d like to meet. Everyone’s busy chatting, laughing and carrying on. What they’re not doing is noticing you. Suddenly, the room begins to feel very warm. Sweat starts to bead on the back of your neck, and the window of acceptable time allowed to remain standing in the entryway is rapidly shrinking. But what to do? Judging eyes turn your way as you hurriedly consider your options.

Option 1 is to quietly slink to an area of the room where no one will pay attention as you transform into a wallflower. Option 2 is to awkwardly join random groups of people and usurp the conversation with shoptalk until each person suddenly needs to use the bathroom. Or there’s always Option 3, to harness your inner socialite and navigate the room with tact and class, naturally drawing people to yourself.

Contrary to what you’re probably thinking, this is not the scene of a cocktail party. This describes what most brands feel as they venture into social media for the first time. Many times it feels as if you’ve walked into someone else’s soirée, where your validation and acceptance are donned by likes, follows and chatter. But just as in real cocktail parties, there are unspoken yet canonical rules. Rules that, if you break them, will land your brand in the marketing equivalent of a retirement home, among the likes of QR codes and flash mobs.

As social media rules are largely unspoken, we can pull some insights from the wisdom of analog social meet-ups. Huffington Post contributor Terrence Chappell wrote a great article, “How To Be Your Fabulous Self At A Cocktail Party,” which expounds ten things to remember when attending social functions. Reading through them, it’s easy to spot valuable parallels between handling oneself at a cocktail party and how to behave on social media. I’ve culled them down to five key points to keep in mind:

  1. Talk to everyone. It’s only natural to walk into a room and single out the people whom you think will elevate your social status. It’s survival of the fittest. But you never know what interesting person is hiding behind a humble outfit. I’ve met quite a few business leads by simply talking to someone no one else was. In the social sphere, don’t be afraid to talk to everyone. Your most zealous brand evangelist may be the person you least expect.
  2. Not everyone wants to hear about your job. No seriously. Throttle back your desire to talk shop unless engaged. This is where most brands misstep. They turn social channels into display cases for their products, services or excessive pictures of their facilities. If you don’t work hard to develop other parts of your brand’s personality, you’ll soon find yourself at the party alone. Even though it feels unnatural, spend time with your team searching for other subject areas to talk about. Then you’ll find yourself able to seamlessly and naturally start or enter conversations with people lining up to join in.
  3. Not everyone has to like you. And that’s OK. Social media is all about networking. It’s very reasonable to reach out to people in hopes of making a new contact or starting a new conversation, but if your gestures are not reciprocated or acknowledged, don’t take it personally. Learn to move on and avoid the temptation to persistently reach out. Otherwise, you may find your brand tagged as spam or abusive.
  4. Learn the art of conversation. Every party will have one person who tries to dominate every conversation. To be successful in social, control of the conversation must be relinquished. It’s a paradigm shift for marketers used to creating unilateral messaging, but by doing so a brand can foster more honest and human conversations. Thus building a stronger following and a more confident image.
  5. If you can’t say anything nice… Sounds simple. It’s not. In her article “When Social Goes Wrong,” Associate Media Director Cara Garretson shares some infamous examples of how big brands put their big feet in their big social mouths. Don’t sacrifice tact and experience for cost and speed. This is why the brands who do social media right don’t trust their social voice to interns or relegate it to just another job descriptor of already taxed employees.

Whether you’re new to the game or an old pro, it never hurts to brush up on your social skills on and offline. The good news is that all these things are learnable. I’ll leave you with one last tip to remember when putting together a social marketing strategy for your brand. It’s always helpful to ask yourself this question: Would I want to talk to my brand at a party?

David Ortega

Partner and Executive Creative Director, Dave specializes in finding the truth and designing around it. Call Dave when you think you’re stuck and need to find a third way. He’ll draw something up.

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