“Why do you always make it about YOU?” — how brands can work harder to be user-centric in social media

By Tinnie Shackle

Have you ever been stuck in a conversation with someone who talks only about himself? It’s unbearable. We make our excuses and head for the door.

Companies have the same effect when they communicate one-way, as if through a megaphone. Customers take a walk.

Why is it apparently so hard not to behave like a party bore? The answer is a universal truth: it’s easy to shout about who you are, but it’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Companies can get so absorbed in their own brands and products that they develop a kind of tunnel vision. The default mode is “what do we want to say?” when it should be “what do they need to hear?”

It’s time to sit up, smell the roses, and work harder to be user-centric.

The consequences are particularly stark in the world of social media, where direct communication makes customer relationships more intimate. Stakeholders need to feel understood and listened to. The conversation needs to feel personal and relevant.

To fail is to be left behind in the competitive race; but there are great prizes for those who succeed. User-centricity is fundamental to building, sustaining and leveraging an online presence. All engagement – shares, likes, follows, subscribes, purchases and beyond – represents a successful user-centric moment.

“User-centricity” is a very big concept, but one that easily breaks down into manageable chunks.

Get under their skin. Companies know very well what their brand means to them, and tend to assume that the world feels the same. A little social media research into stakeholder perceptions often torpedoes old assumptions and throws up some surprises. Social analytics tools have tremendous power: use them. Benchmarking research is also valuable: how does one brand compare to others in the online marketplace? On what dimensions do they differ? Such insights often provide a direct answer to that big question we should have been asking all along: “what do they need to hear?”.

Tune in the tone. Does the message on social media align with the overall brand? Tone matters, and is hard to get right. A company’s voice must be consistent across all communication. At the same time, the appropriate tone for social media can be more conversational and informal. Marketing-driven language is often too direct.

Authenticity is all. Being user-centric means engaging openly and honestly with no other agenda than to share useful and interesting ideas, and be helpful. There is no place in social media for the hard sell: it’s an authenticity-killer.

Pinpoint the touchpoints. Are you saying the right thing in the right way in the right place at the right time? Language, platform, topic, frequency and formats should match users’ habits, not the company’s convenience.

Be their kind of interesting. People engage with brands in social media when the company strikes a chord with something they care about, or stimulates their imagination. That moment is the holy grail of social media communication, and you don’t find it by talking in circles about what’s interesting to you. You find it by active, analytical listening.

Figure out what makes them tick, and start cooking up content just for them. It can be an enlightening experience.  Just like putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

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This article draws on the ISOC knowledge base for Social Media.

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