You SHOULD Be Sick of Your Social Media 11

If you're tired of your social media message, then you're just getting started.

Boredom with your own spiel--a sure sign you're on the right track.

When you’ve finally got a tiger by the tail, it will be clear, won’t it? When you’ve finally found that world-changing message and you’re on a social media roll, hitting every note just right, sparking huge strings of comments every time you make an utterance, you’ll just know it, right? You’ll feel the rush. Your success will be obvious. Won’t it?

Sorry, but no.

This week I was giving one of my stock presentations (adapted of course for the audience) when the importance of this point hit me. I’ve given this particular presentation many times. Most of it is made up of what I would consider “set pieces”–3- to 5-minute riffs I can drag and drop into just about any presentation. I’ve done these riffs so many times that I’m sometimes halfway through them before I even start to think about them (it’s almost a little scary sometimes). And then I start looking at the audience and thinking, How they can stand to hear me droning on about this? I’m on autopilot, and that has to be clear to them. They can tell that I’ve said this dozens of times before; they must be falling asleep.

You would think so, but in fact, just the opposite happens: It’s then that I realize the audience is most engrossed, and I’m reminded that they’ve never heard it before at all–every part of it is new to them. They have no idea what’s coming next. And what’s more, audiences respond at exactly this moment, when you’ve got it down pat, when it’s practiced and polished.

This is a hugely counterintuitive point. We’re trained to think that compelling messages are spontaneous, original to every situation, constantly new. In fact, compelling messages are most generally polished and smoothed to streamlined perfection over a long time frame. One of the secrets of great messages is that they are good messages that are just a little bit better. The burrs and rough spots are filed down and polished. The timing of the delivery is just right…the pauses are perfectly placed. The repetitions aren’t accidental. The word choice is derived from experience. And the recipient knows it and rewards you.

This is not to say that making a good message a little bit better is in any way easy. Another of the secrets is that that the last mile of a great message is the costliest to install. Only the people at the top of their game are making the connection consistently.

I’m reminded of Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth,” which evolved out of a PowerPoint presentation. It’s mentioned here not in any political context but because it’s undeniably a powerful piece of persuasive messaging and because of the way it was developed. Gore has talked about the evolution of this presentation as he gave it countless times, refining slightly each time until it became something second nature. Something like muscle memory; something like hitting a baseball. Something you do without thinking. Any great salesperson could easily describe what it’s like to work in this zone.

Great messages are ones you’ve thought about so much that you almost can’t believe others would want to hear them. They are yours — you’ve worked with them so much that you’ve internalized them. You can no longer imagine anyone else doesn’t know them.

At this point, human nature is to want to move on. We get tired of it. We’ve learned it, and we want to get on with other things. But if you want to get the point across, you’ve just started when you’re feeling sick of your message.

Social media are no different. If you look at any of the social media greats, you’ll find a similar pattern–a consistent message relentlessly iterated with slight variations. Let’s look at a few of the ways this plays out:

  • Quantity.[T]he more words a blogger posted, the more friends they had and the higher their attractiveness rating.” Don’t be scared to say what you’re saying A LOT. You’ll know when you’ve finally got it because you’ll be bored with saying it (see above). Until then, say as much as you can.
  • Repetition. There’s a reason Guy Kawasaki posts his links two and three times apiece–because more people get them every time. Some people won’t listen until it’s clear that you’re serious about delivering the message. And you can’t assume when you’ve delivered a message once that you have an accurate read on what people think–you need a large sample size.
  • Experimentation. You won’t know what your best message is until you know what it isn’t. That means a lot of trial and error. It means trying out variations and versions and looking at the feedback you get until you find messages that resonate.
  • Marginal improvement. One of the reasons you won’t instantly know when you’ve found a truly deep and effective message is that the result will be only slightly better than the results you’ve achieved to that point. The applause will be only slightly louder, the reach only slightly further. This is a game of inches, not miles. The Success Patrol doesn’t show up at your door one day and say, You’re done. Great messaging is about making progress. To this point, Chris Voss is one of my favorites. He may be swinging for the fences, but he’s happy every time he gets a hit. And he knows there will be some strikes in there too. Chris knows it’s a game of numbers, as he once told me. It’s about your stats–not hitting one grand slam. You’re going to be practicing a lot (as much as 10,000 hours, if Malcom Gladwell is right).
  • Looking ahead. One of the beauties of really knowing your message is that you can be looking ahead while you’re delivering it. In auto racing, one of the big lessons is that you constantly need to be looking down the track–thinking about the next turn, the next corner. That’s because if you’re thinking about what you’re doing right now, you’ve already lost. You can’t react that quickly. Being familiar with your message to the point of being sick of it is a similar process–while you’re working on the moment, you can be planning for what’s next without crashing right now. This makes you much better able to go with the flow.

In any case, none of this is meant to be an excuse for bad content. Social media starts with real information–it’s a given. It’s assumed. What you’re finally going to win with is a message that is uniquely yours–not necessarily a complete departure from what has come before, but something that’s purely you. This is a big part of what Seth Godin is talking about when he talks about “linchpins“–people who are indispensable because no one else can offer what they do.

What do you think? Do you give up when you get tired of hearing yourself talk, or is that a signal to you that you’re really onto something? As always, thoughts welcomed and thanks for reading.

[Flickr photo by Dimnikolov:]

Will Reichard

Will Reichard has an MBA from the University of Mexico and is CEO of CrossCut Communications, LLC, a full-service marketing and communications company with a digital edge. His forte is messaging. From working as an editor at a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper to articulating the selling points of an innovative customer focused nonprofit fundraising organization, he consistently helps to give voice to challenging but mission-critical ideas. He writes a blog on social media, public relations, marketing and technology and was recently invited to be a panelist on personal branding at the prestigious Crittenden National Conference. He is also an award-winning writer who has been published in outlets including Innovation: America’s Journal of Technology Commercialization and National Mortgage Professional Magazine.

About William Reichard

Will Reichard, MBA, President, has a broad background in social media, strategic communications and marketing, public relations, development, fundraising and business management. His forte is messaging. From working as an editor with a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper to helping establish capacity in an early-phase public relations company aimed at middle-market businesses to articulating the selling points of an innovative customer-focused nonprofit fundraising organization (United Way of Central New Mexico), Reichard consistently helps to give shape to challenging but mission-critical ideas. He is an award-winning writer who has been published in outlets including Innovation: America’s Journal of Technology Commercialization. Most recently, he has consulted for a wide range of clients through his company, CrossCut Communications, and has become a sought-after speaker and adviser on the field of social media and business, a role in which he enjoys applying his bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology. He writes a blog on social media, public relations, marketing and technology and was recently invited to be a panelist on personal branding at the prestigious Crittenden National Conference. He has additional interests in change management, social theory, issues of diversity, and management of technology. He graduated magna cum laude in anthropology and recently completed an executive-level master’s of business administration with a 4.0 gpa, both through the University of New Mexico. He is a member of Beta Gamma Sigma. Reichard belongs to Social Media Club and the New Mexico Tech Council, is a member of the Albuquerque Independent Business Alliance, and belongs to the Business New Mexico network. He is involved in a variety of community efforts, including serving as president of Albuquerque Net Impact Professional and the board of the YMCA of Central New Mexico. He is particularly proud of his membership in the Rotary Club of Albuquerque del Sol. Available for speaking opportunities.

  • Great insights here. You’re right, it is counter-intuitive that just when it’s old hat to us, it’s just starting to sizzle for others. What’s important is to progress in inches, not miles, as you say, so that the message can become honed and improved, not be obliterated without regard to its usefulness to others.

    • Mark, one of the things I most respect about you is that you always think of responsibility. You’re absolutely right that we’re shortchanging the audience if we only concentrate on what we’re interested in at the moment. We’re there to do a job and to give readers or audience members the value that they’re looking for. Yet another great point–thank you!

  • Great Post Will, thanks for mentioning me. The loneliness of the long distance runner, lol. Its definitely a marathon. People get lost because they want the quick easy win and winning rarely comes easy. Its an accumulation of many efforts and drive. An orchestra of effort if you will. Sometimes an employee would say to me: “work is hard” and I’d say, “if work wasnt hard we wouldnt have to pay you for doing it!”

    I also have the problem of thinking everyone is smart as I am, so why bother telling anyone what I know. Its amazing to me how many people love the message you share that you think no one will like. Always stick it out.


    • Thanks, Chris! That’s a phenomenal point about believing in yourself. It takes a lot of faith to persist and make those incremental changes. We tend to think of success as this effortless quality that a person is born with instead of what it really is–a tendency not to give up and the belief that you can get past the obstacle.

      And your marathon analogy really hits home for me. We seem to live in a “sprint” culture…a culture of stars rather than craftspeople. Not only faith, but a lot of discipline as well, is needed.

      And humility. As a former journalist, I have a lot of sympathy for the “trades,” because, as I tell people in most of my presentations these days, a lot of this isn’t brain surgery. People pretending otherwise are why we have the “guru” backlash, IMO.

      I’m honored by the comments, Chris–thanks for dropping in. You’re consistently among the most genuine and interesting people on the net these days. Hope the rest of your trip goes well!

      • Thanks William, you know people need to think of themselves as builders of their legacies. Quick rich schemes rarely work. I think of myself as a builder for the long term. When I build a company I see it as something that will last forever and be remembered as my legacy left behind. Even if the business doesnt work, my efforts have an effect to hopefully contributing to a better world and making my future efforts even better. Its just like the rabbit and the hare story. I’ve seen so many people stop just short of the goal. At one of my companies I’d see sales people quit for the quick buck and later get tons of commissions from their efforts they’d lose out on. People usually quit right before the lights are about to go on. Go for the distance.

  • Malissakullberg

    On a live album, Miles of Aisles, Joni Mitchell laments the fact that musicians are called to perform their songs again and again. “Nobody every said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a Starry Night again, Man…He painted it and that was it.”

    I always found this comment a bit petulant.

    Musicians whose work is loved have to perform it because people want the experience, the connection. The interesting difference: unlike a script or a well-honed speech, a musical piece is rarely rendered exactly the same way. It’s like a suit with wrinkles that show the owner’s imprint.

    The thing is: the freshly pressed delivery can be an occasion for the wrinkle of internal riffing. That’s what happened here. Will’s observation of his audience spurred a variation on his message, a variation he wouldn’t have conceived if he hadn’t done the same thing time and again. Even in the throes of automaticity, he connected, saw “experience,” called it and created a new “song.”

    Joni bridled at being “a human jukebox,” but she and her music grew through the giving.

    The Success Patrol..;-)

    • Wow, Malissa–what a great analogy! I’m reminded of how often first albums are artists’ best because they’re made up of songs they’ve been rehearsing endlessly for several years while they’ve been trying to get a deal. Thank you–I may have to steal this (with credit, of course!).

  • Very good advice. The biggest point is not to become bored and self-conscious that you are boring anyone. And to be playful and experimental in striving for perfection in the knowledge that is can never be achieved. Thanks.

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