Essays on Technology and Culture

A Battlefield Promotion to Social Media General

Recently, I inherited the role of managing social media and community building for the startup company I work for. It happened quite suddenly—my boss found another job, and I got a battlefield promotion. As I’ve tried to find my bearings in the short time I’ve had this role (about 48 hours as of this writing), I’ve had one main, nagging, concern above all the others, even the “can I actually pull this off?” question. That concern is: How can I do social media and get people to use our product without being the canonical “Social Media Douchebag.” I’ve been paranoid enough about it that I even Asked MetaFilter.

The fears are twofold. First, a major part of our product’s target audience are not exactly tech-savvy. We’re not exactly talking the “have my secretary print out my email” types, but that’s not far off. Social media and social networking are not things they’re terribly up on. If they have a profile anywhere, it’s probably on LinkedIn. And, to come clean here, I don’t know much of anything about how to reach people on LinkedIn. The second fear is that, if I push too hard, or do the wrong thing, I will destroy any good will my company and its product has earned in this community.

By way of example, a user of our product sent us a very angry email after we linked to him in a broadcast that we send out to all of our users each week. It was merely his name, a link to his profile, the firm he works for, and his title—all required, and public information on our product that anyone could see. The pull quote from his e-mail is “I do not do business that way.” If so, then he clearly signed up to the wrong service. This is comparatively minor, but it’s a good example of the sort of slightly-paranoid, slightly technology-phobic audience I’m looking to woo.

There’s plenty of people who love us and what we do, but more who have only heard of us, but don’t know what we do. I’m making it my job to increase the number in the first column. However, I want to do it in an ethical, sane way that steps on as few toes as possible. This may be the initial problem. One way to know you’re succeeding is when you’re making people upset. It’s possible that my fears in this regard are an obstacle. Maybe I should ruffle a few feathers. No such thing as bad publicity, right? On the other hand, if I’m doing something I’ve explicitly railed against on this site, or elsewhere, [1] there’s an “it’s okay when I do it” moral relativism that chafes me when I see it in others.

I think it’s possible to do this. It’s not boiling the ocean. We can increase people using our product, actively, win paying customers, and maintain a good reputation, but it’s going to take some thought, some time, and some patience. I have all the tools at my disposal I need, including a small number of people who love our company and product passionately. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian made a brilliant observation about those passionate users of any sort of technology product in the modern era: “They are your website, not you.” The trick is to find them, and listen.

  1. Which I’m not, and haven’t. I’m just covering bases, here.  ↩