(Cross-posted at Now is Gone)
I’m a firm believer in analogies, and this particularly pungent one may explain why many Social Media campaigns are doomed to failure. To experience the full fragrance of this lesson, you need to know a little about how to make compost without making a stink. (I don’t apologize for the comparison, as many consider modern reputation management to be little more than “fertilizer” anyway.)
Whether you call it “New Media” or “Social Media”, there are many parallels to compost.
- Compost itself has little intrinsic value, but it makes plants grow faster
- Compost – like Social Media – does happen on its own, but not fast enough to be of use
- Compost – while made of natural ingredients – is not meant to be consumed directly
- Compost earns blue ribbons based on what it grows and how it grows it
Making a Pile
While “compost happens”, it doesn’t happen fast enough for the savvy gardener. Instead, there are several rules of thumb governing the types of leaves and organic debris one includes in the pile. The amount of water you add to the mix determines its temperature, and can accelerate or decelerate the fermentation. The pile must be periodically turned and churned to ensure uniform conversion – a commitment to periodically get your hands dirty in a personal way.
If you’re not careful, you end up with too much nitrate generation – or maybe too little. Cooking your compost too quickly also prevents the formation of many useful nutrients that replenish the soil. And if you do everything improperly, you end up with a big smelly pile that no one wants to claim or go near.
Making Social Media
While “social media” can happen on its own, it benefits from expert help. Each social media practitioner brings a different prescription for the right mix of ingredients. Along the way, you have to closely monitor the conditions, and know when to add water, when to goose the process, and when to back off. You also need to stay involved and engaged with the project, realizing this is a process – requiring a commitment to periodically get your hands dirty in a personal way.
If you’re not careful, you destroy the very organic support you were trying to cultivate. And there’s no real value in making compost, unless you intend to use it to feed and supplement existing public relations and reputation management efforts. If you have an expectation of overnight results, you aren’t growing anything of value. And if you’re caught cheating, you end up with a smelly pile that soils your name and encourages others to distance themselves from you.
The Bottom Line
New Media tactics and tools are far from a panacea. If you’re not willing or able to use them properly, don’t get involved. It’s hard work and requires attention – and it can enhance everything else you do. Or it can stink up the joint.
Before you hire someone to help you with a Social Media campaign, check under their fingernails. You’d be surprised how many have never soiled their hands, and don’t really know any more than you do.
Remember that it’s about the produce. You’re not buying a bucket of rich, earthy loam. You’re buying the vegetables.
And there are always those who feel like they can get better results by trucking in a load of something else and spreading it around.