Half a Balloon just doesn’t fly

Technical Drawing of Historical Hot Air Balloon Designs. Source: Wikipedia

Tl;dr: Social Media. Everyone does it, which is a good thing – but everyone offers to do it for you too. How do you know what a complete online presence should be? Gauge outputs and returns with a fun balloon metaphor.

I can see the outsourcing trend still growing both globally and in the small local world of Crouch End, where five years ago we had a thriving online community and now we have a lot of content being created but few listeners, and only rare conversations between the few people who do compete with each other to do everyone else’s social media.

I can also see that when talking to – anyone new, really.

A few actual recent conversations: ‘Oh yeah we do social media for our clients. You’re an expert, tell me this: How do we actually get anyone to reply?’. ‘[At an event where the person has just spoken] What, social media? Yes, my PR agency does that for me. [no mention of the event on their twitter profile.] ‘[at the Digital Catapult] Oh but we do really well with social media. Some of the blog posts are even written by our own people.’ Etc etc.

Then we have the sort of mature social media, like in government, which is lumped in with ‘communications’. There is commscamp where I’m being referred to if I want to speak social media at ukgovcamp. There is ‘agile content creation‘. It’s all very well thought out.

Except it STILL doesn’t consider that it’s supposed to be a two-way relationship. Social media can open up organisations beyond the bottleneck model of everything going through the Comms department (who sit in their separate offices and only on rare occasions get involved in what is actually happening.) And who are often now the people who are supposed to teach others how to communicate for themselves. Which doesn’t result in many two-way relationships.

(We do have a great model in gov comms – the Environment Agency lets all their staff engage directly.)

It is also true that there is a lot to learn. That just means that the people who know need to spend more time with the people who don’t know as much, because they don’t spend their days doing this stuff. Which, if Twitter got it right, would be a much more grassroots based education infrastructure that they could support, like the one Wikimedia has developed. But Twitter (the company) cares much more for the big marketing bucks. What a shame.

Yet, for us, it still works, so we should use it.

So I’ve been mulling over one simple visual with which to explain the difference between all the above, and online presence that is 100% personal, that creates connections, rather than being a PR exercise which pretends that there are connections. Something that not many of us have but that should be the goal to strive towards, rather that stopping short and sticking with ‘communications’.

Something that you get much more back from than numbers in graphs and stats. (Many social media agencies are essentially rebranded ad agencies, and ad agencies have a history of giving clients meaningless statistics. Especially in social, everything can be pretense. Unless of course you know what you are looking at. Which, if nothing else, is a good motivation to get stuck in.)

Introducing: The Half Balloon Concept. 

How can I explain to a person that delegation is not a useful habit when it comes to being present online? Never, never ever outsource your online voice? That they simply need to do it for themselves, and in order to do that, they need good role models and a readiness to learn?

You know you should know more. But how do you know you don’t know enough? And how do you judge what you are hearing, how do you know that the people you are listening to are getting it right?

Technical Drawing of Historical Hot Air Balloon DesignsHere’s two ways to gauge.

One: What do you put out there?

Do you 1) have no involvement in the content creation, hiring a content agency instead? Good job, you tried. You have a quarter balloon. 2) Do you write some of what’s going out there, like the Digital Catapult? Great, you have half a balloon. Are your tweets 3) replies as well as your own content? Well done, you have a balloon! You can fly!

More importantly, because we wouldn’t be doing stuff if we didn’t get something back: Two: What do you get back?

The less you know, the easier you can be fooled with meaningless numbers.

Do you get evaluation reports from your social media or ‘content marketing’ agency? Congratulations, you have a quarter of a balloon.

Do you look online at what comes back, lurking in the shadows, watching, but not taking part?

Congratulations, you have half a balloon.

Do you do as much listening as talking, taking others seriously not just as targets for your marketing, but as people, and open yourself up for real two-way relationships, for which the fact that they happen online doesn’t really matter? Do you get replies, information, connection, inspiration?

Great, now you have a balloon, now you can fly.

The great thing about really being online is that through connections with your peers you a) build trust, b) get info on how do to better, and c) stop the bad bits of the digital industry exploiting your ignorance – and you become a real thought leader, because you’ll still be one of the first to do this online thing properly.

In everything you do, aim to get a full balloon.

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