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The Needle and the Damage Done: On “Anti-Social” Social

Needle in a haystack

On Reasonable Reach

Let me begin with a story: I recently watched a webinar. I was required to register to watch, so I did. Then I watched. Not long after, someone from the company that hosted the webinar contacted me with a sales pitch. By email. And by voice mail. And by text. And via social media. Multiple times. For weeks this went on. I was afraid to respond, lest I bring upon myself some worse curse. But finally I responded—I couldn’t take it anymore. No need to worry. The individual in question was responsive, polite, and respectful. In short, they were professional, and quite possibly had no idea they were doing anything wrong. But they were. They were essentially just following me around with a shotgun, blasting away anywhere they thought I might go, or be. From a business standpoint, this is very poor strategy. Why?

First off, the webinar in question? Co-hosted by a company I work for. That’s why I attended. 5 seconds of pre-research would have made that clear.

Secondly, I am not a fool. I know you contacted me. If I’m not responding, it’s because I don’t want to. Splash me once, fine. Even target me twice. But after that, please leave me alone.

Third, don’t try to engage me with a flagrant sales pitch right away.

Instead, reach me via the only thing we actually share, reach me via the only reasonable point of contact we have: the webinar. Call this “reasonable reach.” Reach me in a reasonable way. A smart way. An appropriate way. A logical way.

On Shotguns & Rifles

Read the above again, and you’ll likely note my deliberate use of a “shotgun” metaphor. This is because I have been thinking about Jay Baer, and his recent Shotgun vs. Rifle proclamations on “reliable reach.” Baer doesn’t believe social media has reliable reach (as he defines it), and so he’s agitating now in favor of trading in the rifle for the shotgun when it comes to social strategy.

There are so many ways I want to respond to this; it’s almost overwhelming. Do I take on the actual metaphor? Ok, sure. Note: shotguns are used by ends-justify-the-means types, people who don’t really care about the who/what/where/when/why of things, as long as somebody or something gets hit before it’s over. The problem? It’s not smart. It’s brutish. It may work by some measures, but at what cost? It’s alienating, inelegant, unsympathetic, clumsy, and inherently isolationist, because it says, in effect, I don’t care what you think, I want what I want. Dare I say it? I will. It’s anti-social.


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On Reliable Reach

Maybe instead I’ll take on this definition of reliable reach. Baer writes: “Reliable reach is the ability to send a message to a person who has asked to hear from you, and for that message to reach that person.” He then goes on to offer some analysis in the service of understanding this definition:

“If I send out a tweet, the 124,000 who have said they want to hear from me won’t see that tweet. A small cross-section (usually about 2,000, according to my Twitter stats) will see it instead. Thus, my theoretical reach is 124,000, but my reliable reach is about 1.6% of that, and the actual people comprising that 1.6% shifts somewhat from tweet to tweet.”

This is all flawed, but it’s hard to explain why. It’s an elusive thing. But I think it comes down to this: the above relies entirely on the idea that a “follower” is someone who has “said that she/he wants to hear” from you. But I don’t believe this is true. When I follow someone, I am telling them, “Ok, I want you on my radar, I want to keep tabs on you, I want to know what you’re up to, because it seems likely you might say or share some things that I’ll want to hear or know about.” But I’m in charge. I’ll decide what I do and don’t want to engage with. So it’s not a blanket endorsement. Which means you can’t lump me in with that other 123,999, and just declare that we all want to hear from you. Well, you can. But you’d be an egomaniac to do so. Truth is, we don’t all want to hear from you.

What we do want to do, is hear from you when you have something relevant to say to us.

To US.

TO us.

So, if this definition of a follower falls away, then the whole argument collapses. Because your theoretical reach is NOT 124,000. That’s nonsense. Which means this understanding of reliable reach is essentially nonsense, too.

On Shotguns & Rifles, Again

Maybe I take on the controversy that Baer believes he is igniting:

“My presentation was called “Shotguns Trump Rifles: Why Social Success is Now a Volume Play” and was one of most controversial talks I’ve ever given about social media strategy.”

Or the myths he purports to be busting:

“The difference between potential impressions and actual impressions is the biggest business lie since magic potions.”

Ok, I’ll bite. And I’m going to use Baer to do it. I’m going to poach one of his slogans here, and flip it a bit to say that, actually, the difference between Theoretical Reach and Reliable Reach is … well … snake oil. Why? Because the distinction as Baer wants to define it doesn’t really matter all that much; certainly not by comparison. Because there is something else that is much more important.

On Reasonable Reach, Again


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Let me come back to a term I used previously: Reasonable Reach. This is really what it’s all about. Reasonable Reach is … well … reach that is reasonable. Reach that makes sense. Reach that is logical. This is harder to comprehend, of course, because it can’t be quantified the way most people like to have things like this quantified. But to try and make this mesh with this paradigm we’re investigating, think of it like this: You have a piece of content. You want to push it out. You have followers to push this out to. But your “theoretical reach” in this case is NOT all your followers; your theoretical reach is instead comprised of only those it makes sense for. For example, let’s say I want to send a tweet about a new feature for our Insight software. My theoretical reach is not our 9000+ followers. It is instead only those who are potential clients/users/vendors. Those are the people I need to target.

On Targeting

AND THERE IT IS! The word we’ve been waiting for. TARGET. It’s all about targeting.

And that, in a nutshell, is the difference between what I’m saying, and what Baer is saying. As I see it, Baer wants us to focus on the weapon. But I want to focus on the target. Or, to get away from the warfare metaphors, let’s say that Baer wants us to focus on what we have, while I want to focus on what you want.

And because social is … well … social (meaning, it’s about people connecting and engaging), only one of these approaches is really the right one. Hint: it’s the one that cares about you, too.

The truth of the matter is this: doing social media right is hard. You have to work at it, and you have to care. You have to think, analyze, and audit. You have to deploy nuance and sophistication. Your strategies have to be flexible, and intelligent. You have to be proactive, attentive, and responsive. So I get it. The temptation to just lean back and start blasting away is almost overwhelming.

The Needle And The Damage Done

Baer concludes his post on the subject of reach and rifles thusly:

“I understand that the shotgun approach may seem odd. It feels weird, even to me, and I came up with it. It puts a premium on quantity, which is the opposite of what most people in social media have been preaching for five years. I wish reliable reach wasn’t like finding a needle in a haystack, and I wish the solution wasn’t to build more haystacks, which is essentially what the shotgun approach recommends.”

Honestly, this just doesn’t make sense to me. If Baer thinks reliable reach is like finding a needle in a haystack, then the understanding is that there is a haystack out there, and there is a needle in it, and I have to find it, and that’s really hard to do. Ok, I get that. But how is building another haystack the answer? I still don’t end up with the needle. I just have more haystacks. Sub back in reliable reach and content for the needle and haystack metaphors, and what is this saying? It’s saying I still don’t have reliable reach, I just have more content. That doesn’t make sense.

On the other hand, if I know the needle is in the haystack, I CAN find it. I just need to be smart about it. I need to figure out which parts of the haystack the needle isn’t in, and get rid of those. Then I need to focus on the parts where it might be. Then I need to start looking. Meticulously, rigorously, intelligently. And eventually, I’ll find the needle. It won’t be easy, and it’ll take time. But I’ll find it. It’s the noun and verb of social. Target. To Target. I will target the target.

Or, I guess I could just shoot up the whole haystack. But then the needle would be lost in the mess.


Interested in learning a bit more about targeting? Check out 8 Tips for Targeting via Social Media below!


8 Tips for Targeting via Social Media

Generating Awareness. This is social media’s primary marketing value. Obvious, you would think, but clearly many brands don’t know it. Still, it’s 100% true. At no more cost than time spent, social can generate tremendous value for a brand in ways that advertising (that other awareness-building tactic) cannot even approximate at this grass-roots level of investment. Still, it isn’t easy.

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To maximize the value you receive from social media, you need to be purposeful with your actions, you can’t just wing it. It may be cheaper than advertising, but if anything, social requires proportionally more savvy and ingenuity. In short, you need to target.

Targeting is a dedicated, sustained, and methodical effort, and involves three stages:

1. Identification: First, you have to identify WHOM you need to connect with
2. Gravitation: Next, you need to make them aware OF you, and draw them TO you.
3. Communication: Once you have their attention, you need to communicate YOUR message.

What follows are some tips for succeeding through each of these stages, and ultimately, generating valuable, sustainable, and powerful awareness for your brand.

Identifying Targets

An oft-circulated aphorism on social media runs as follows: “LinkedIn is for people you know. Facebook is for people you used to know. Twitter is for people you want to know.”

As with all things of this nature, there is within in it more than a kernel or two of truth. Twitter is indeed an awesome tool for discovering targets—prospects and influencers that it would be valuable for your brand to reach. Twitter provides a lot of quality information about its users, which can then be used to identify people you should target with your social media activities—both on Twitter and other social channels.

Tip 1: Generate a list of active prospects/influencers that are engaging with your competition but not you. Simply put, if they’re aware of your competitors, then you need them to be aware about you. What’s more, if these people are actively communicating with or about your competitors—such as mentioning them or retweeting them—then not only are they interested in topics that matter to your brand, but they also are possible curators of your content.

Tip 2: Generate a list of prospects/influencers that are engaging with topics relevant to your business. You want people who are interested in topics relevant to your brand to know who you are.

Tip 3: Generate a list of prospects/influencers from conference social media conversations. Research conferences that are important to your brand, then analyze the event hashtags to see who has engaged with them on social media.

Build Awareness With Targets, and Generate Interest From Targets

This is not unlike the way in which luck and hard work intersect. You can have all the luck in the world, but if you have no talent, you’re not likely to make much of your breaks. Conversely, you might have talent to spare, but if you never get a break, no one will ever know. So it goes with awareness and interest. If you get a break and one of your targets takes your bait, you need to be ready to reel them in.

Tip 4: Follow/connect with prospects/influencers on social media. An important note here is that while Twitter may be the primary way you discovered targets, it’s smart to follow them on other social media channels as well. This is the first step to get them to know who you are.

Tip 5: Share, reply to and comment on prospects’ and influencers’ blog and social media posts. Just as in interpersonal communication, showing interest in what another person has to say goes a long way on social media. Consider doing this on a variety of channels, including Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. On LinkedIn, this includes identifying groups your targets are members of and joining them for the purpose of commenting on others’ posts (as well as for sharing your own relevant content—see Tip 8). Remember this, it’s crucial to actually communicate with people on social, to have a back and forth. Social is not a bullhorn, it’s a town square.

Tip 6. Generate lists of popular content from a short list of industry influencers/media outlets and prospects each week and share this content. What you share communicates a lot to prospects/influencers, and they are more likely to follow you and be interested in what you have to say when you are sharing and communicating about quality content in addition to theirs.

Communicate Your Message

Once you have laid the groundwork through following, sharing, and commenting over a period of time, you can begin communicating to your targets. You need the content you share, however, to be relevant to the people you share it with, and to be of high quality. Otherwise, they could quickly lose interest in it—and in you.

Tip 7: Send a prospect/influencer a link via an @mention on Twitter, to content on your site that should be of interest to them. Just about all Twitter users track their @mentions. So by using an @mention, you vastly increase the likelihood of your target taking real notice of your tweet. The @mention signals that you intended the tweet (and the content linked to it), especially for them; accordingly, they are more likely to click on the link and reply to your tweet.

Tip 8: Publish your content on LinkedIn groups that your target prospects/influencers are members of. Given that LinkedIn is the most-used social media channel for business, it’s vital to your targeted social media strategy. Important note: Sharing on LinkedIn groups cannot be done via your company page. You can only do so through your employees’ individual profiles.

Your Secret Weapon

HRmarketer software. It IS targeting. It’s what it was built for. Listen, none of this is easy. In fact, it can be downright difficult and time-consuming if you don’t have the knowledge and the tools. But HRmarketer has the knowledge, and HRmarketer is the tool. For companies in the HR marketplace, our software can help you target the right people more efficiently, and more effectively. Identify targets based on their interest in HR topics relevant to your brand. In seconds. Find the hottest, most relevant HR content to share, and to comment on. In seconds. Discover trending topics, and create better, more successful content. In seconds.

We call this document “8 Tips for Targeting via Social Media,” but really, we have just one tip: use our HRmarketer software. It IS targeting.


Please click below to learn more about our HRmarketer software:

About the Author:

Mark is the founder and ceo of HRmarketer.

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