One of the great things about social media [and there are so many!] is giving people the opportunity and the venue to interact-whether it's with a certain brand, a celebrity, a product, or a college/university. It gives people an outlet to compliment on a job well done or recommend a great product, to ask questions of the company or other followers, and to voice their concerns over an issue or problem they've had and feeling as though the company/brand/school will listen.
Getting a less-than-personal response from the company/brand - or no response at all - is exactly what people who engage with social media DON'T want. They don't want to be ignored. If I'm spending the time to [kindly] point out a flaw, issue, or negative experience I've had or ask a question, I expect a relatively personal response to my specific issue; not some generic, "Thanks so much for your feedback" or "We're always trying to improve! -[insert initials of social media manager here]". On the flip side, when I compliment you, a little personal post/tweet to me goes a long way and builds my allegiance with you and your brand. It makes me feel what I had to say was as important to you as it was to me.
In today's digitally-driven world, many still yearn for/need that personal touch - yes, even when we're sitting behind a desk and staring at a computer screen. Making it personal only creates, builds and strengthens current relationships at any level between brand and consumer.
Recently, I found one of the better examples I've seen of this in one of the most peculiar places: a news agency. I was text messaging my younger sister and after a lull in the conversation, I got a message:
"Monica Pearson tweeted me!"
My sister doesn't tweet all that often and her use of Twitter is minimal, but she had recently started following Pearson, a news anchor at WSB-TV in Atlanta. Not only did Pearson thank her for the follow [a number of celebrities-or their PR staffs-send these types of notes], but she personalized it just by reading my sister's 160-character Twitter bio, taking something from that and mentioning it in her reply. Instant fan for life.
Pearson [@MonicaWSB] appears to use her account for both personal and professional use. But I checked out her feed and was fascinated that she responds to all of her followers in this way.
Dig a little deeper and she regularly interacts with them, answering questions, and agreeing/disagreeing with their point of views.
Is she a mega-celebrity or brand? Nope. Is she getting thousands of follows a day that could possibly inhibit her from doing this? Uh-uh. BUT, she is engaging [my #oneword2012!] with her followers - who are also her viewers [I'd argue many of those people following Pearson are in the Metro Atlanta area]. And by doing this, when they turn on the news and she's staring back at them, they might feel a little bit more of a connection.
Just because she spent 30 seconds going the extra mile.
What she's doing for her own personal brand and for WSB-TV is impressive. After an encounter like this, I'd be more inclined to listen to what she has to say over another anchor. All of the sudden, I like her. Not as an anchor, but as a person. And that means a lot more to me.
In higher education, we're always looking for good content and great strategies to engage our prospective students, parents, and alumni, but at the end of the day, it's [still] all about being personal and making that connection. We could have the best bloggers, the best Web design, the best YouTube videos, and award-winning fundraising publications- but if we're not taking the time to get to know those who want to engage with us, then we're missing the boat.
The bad news? If we don't take the time to interact with them, there is a Monica Pearson out there who is ready to do so on behalf of their college and university [or in the case of advancement and development professionals, there's always another charity or organization looking to get that alum to give to their cause].
And just like that, those 30 seconds you didn't think you had time for before? They become invaluable and critical.
With the Web becoming more social with each passing day, is it expected to make it as personal as Monica does with each follower or each person who posts something about you and your institution? I would argue it's not, but I think it's important to define what is 'personal' at each institution and add a level of personalization to your social media efforts that fits into your budget and time. And maybe someday, not too far in the future, we'll use the words "engagement" and "personal" far more when we're developing our overall marketing and PR goals and strategies.