I’ve been on Twitter for some time, now, and I love it for the connections I’ve made with other writers. I recently joined Facebook to make contact with “Real Life” friends and, increasingly, writer-friends from Twitter. Unfortunately, though, Social Media involvement also means dealing with spam from companies and, ostensibly, professional PR people who think they can use this new platform to sell their, or their clients’ wares, and I really do wonder how much they con people into paying them to do this because it seems they just fundamentally misunderstand the medium.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Social Media cannot or should not be used for promoting a product, of course it can. I have no issue with someone I have followed or befriended posting about their current project on their account so that I’m aware of it and can opt-in in some way, nor do I have an issue with someone I have directly corresponded with sending me a private message asking me to give them a little support in their project before they go wide with it – that’s the good, effective way to use Social Media for PR. What I do have a problem with is the number of messages I have been getting, supposedly ‘tailored’ to me, or not, from accounts clearly set up purely for PR, which show very little genuine interest in either me or the platform they want to exploit.

Illustration by Matt HammSo, fwiw, here’s my advice to anyone wanting to use Social Media for promotional purposes:

Any time you send an unsolicited message about a product directly to someone on any of these social media, you are not being an uber cool company that is down with what the kids are doing these days – you are TELEMARKETING. Not only are you telemarketing, but you are calling during a dinner party. Imagine being at that dining table when the call comes through. Now imagine the talk about you and your product afterwards – it’s not going to be good is it?

If you want to use Social Media to promote something, you have to actually BE social – be ready to put in the time or it will all be for naught. Tweet or post about something other than just your own products, something which will be interesting to your target audience so that they will engage with you and wonder what you or your product is all about. Getting a good word of mouth campaign going used to be a real coup in the PR world, because it was subtle, if sometimes vulgar, work. Social Media is all about word of mouth, so you need to put as much creativity into encouraging those conversations as you did pre-social media – the size of these vast networks you wish to exploit make it a more delicate process, not a shortcut.

Illustration credit: Matt Hamm