I've had the unfettered joy of late of returning to a passion of my youth: dance. I used to be a competitive ballroom dancer, and I've always enjoyed a good two-step, salsa or swing to boot. I've never understood people who can hear the opening strains of Sing, Sing, Sing and not want to jump up and spin onto the dance floor.
But dance takes knowledge, strategy and practice. (Sound a bit like social media engagement?) One has to learn the basics, and one has to be flexible, willing to take risks and willing to make mistakes. As I was dusting off my dance shoes last month, I began to see a lot of similarities between the mindset and skillset required for dance and that required to embark into social media.
- Before you dance, observe. It's a good idea to hang around the dance floor, just observing first. See who is new, who is a pro, who's enthused, who's a regular, who's an instructor and who is just fun to dance with. Social media is the same: see who the influencers are in your industry and how they communicate with others.
- Dance with everyone who asks. The leads may vary in strength, style and experience, and some might not be to your taste, but never turn down a chance to dance. It's polite, and it will help you learn. People change, and you can learn as much from them as they can from you. Same is true of social media: engage with everyone before you decide who your key influencers are. And then engage with the key influencers, but continue to engage with everyone else.
- Watch the flashy ones, but don't imitate them. The flashy ones with the professional moves might be something to aspire to, but don't be in a hurry to get there. Just start with a lesson, get to know your fellow dancers, and you'll find your path. The same is true of social media: your strategy should fit you and your community of interest. There are no out-of-the-box social media solutions. It's all custom, baby.
- It's more fun when it's not a competition. Competitive ballroom dance can be fierce and a little crazy. I know; I used to be a competitive ballroom dancer. It sucked all the fun out of it for me. Same is true of social media. Sure, it can be fun to compare Twitter followers and count reTweets, and of course make sure you measure your results. But when you get started, remember to ask: are you and your community having fun out there on the social media dance floor? If you're having fun with your community and trying new steps, you'll see good results.
- Learn the basics first. There are some basics to dance that you simply must know before you can improvise and make it your own. Same is true of social media: read some blogs, listen to podcasts, hire a consultant and get down some of the basic principles before determining your strategy.
- Learn by doing. The best way to learn to dance is to practice a lot with a lot of partners and work it into your daily and weekly routine; make it a part of your life. The same is true of social media: practice, review, learn and question technique on a regular basis.
The reason for the similarities is clear: dance is unapologetically social, and there are established guidelines for participating in the space. Unfortunately, there aren't yet clear cultural guidelines for participating in the social media space, and most social media blunders come about because practitioners don't realize that social media is social, and they choose to treat it like an advertising or self-promotional space. Then they wonder why they can't gather followers and ask "how do I get more people to fan me on Facebook?" Wrong question. You can't ballroom dance by yourself, and no one will reward you for being a self-promotional jerk, whether that be on the dance floor or on Twitter.