I recently had the opportunity to go to an Italian Meet Up in San Francisco, something I’ve wanted to do for some time. I always have liked meeting people face-to-face and meet ups allow you to grasp how involved the public is when it comes to online social.

–BUT-

Stop What You Are Doing

After the meet up, when I got back to the office, I realized I should have stood up on the table and said, “Stop. Stop everything. Stop what you’re doing. Work with no one – don’t even use your own stuff. Go hide under a rock; don’t come out until you figure out what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Don’t get on Facebook, Twitter – and please, please don’t get on G+ and spam everyone to death.”

I didn’t do it. I resisted the insane urge to throw professionalism in the toilet on the off chance that someone might listen. –And yet, this is something I’ve wanted to scream at every single person who’s come looking for the silver bullet. Please consider:

  1. Silver bullets only work on werewolves – not customers.
  2. In the original Aladdin, the genie that came out of the magic lamp tried to kill Aladdin and take his girl. If you don’t know this and you’re thinking about rubbing some old lamps in pawnshops, I suggest you read Arabian Nights.
  3. If a magic formula, winning combination, etc. had ever been created, it’d cost more money than anybody but billionaires could afford… which may be why Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Christy Walton fall into a category of less than 2,000 people in the entire world (i.e. the hypothesis that the magic formula is real and it costs a serious bundle).

The good news: There really is an “it”, a “thing”, a “special something”.

The bad news: You won’t find it in any social network, forum, blog, video or pin board.

Define “Friend” Please…

I don’t know about you, but when I was younger, a “friend” was someone you met and got to know. They went from “that person I met”, to acquaintance, to friend. As far as I know, that definition hasn’t changed much.

Take Facebook for example. What is it, really? It started out as a novel idea, where real friends connected with each other across colleges. They knew each other or their parents knew each other – there was a connection of some kind. It was a real connection: the true connection.

Now, you have fans, friends, followers… so what if you have over 1,000 “friends”. Do you know them? I’m willing to bet you don’t know much about mostof them, let alone all 1,293. –And I’m still of the mindset that a friend isn’t really a friend until you’ve done things like… oh… shaken their hand, had coffee and cracked a joke or two only you would know about.

True Connection

For the most part, this means the people you’re following (and those following you) aren’t your friends – although they do hold the potential of friend…ship…ness.

The “Special Something” (s)

You get on Facebook, Twitter, G+ and who knows what other network because you were told it was important for your business. You can’t understand why it’s not working. You aren’t getting traffic and you’re gaining followers at a very slow snail’s pace. These are not the results you were promised.

Well… here’s a secret, or two, or three.

#1:  You’re building a community.

You’re building a living, breathing group of people you can talk to, listen to, laugh with and share with. You don’t abuse them. You don’t spam them. You don’t shove games down their throats or ads into their brains or flood their feed with meme links. This doesn’t get you anywhere but locked, blocked and ignored.

Life really hasn’t changed so much that social isn’t still… social. Oh, sure, the process is a bit different. Many of the relationships you’ll cultivate will be built through content, video and 140 characters, and you’ll probably never meet. However, it’s still social. As in socializing and social butterfly.

It’s a fine line to walk, but you have to dance along the line of “professional schmoozling”.

#2: Your community has to know you’re interested in them.

You can fake interest, but it will be noticed for what it is. Rather than fake it, really feel it. Now, you might be thinking, “How, pray tell, am I supposed to feel interest in someone I’ve never met and only say ‘hi’ to on Twitter?”

Build Your Community

Easy, and I’ll tell you why. The people on the other end of the screen are your:

  • Brand cheerleaders
  • Brand associates
  • Brand advocates
  • Product/service buyers
  • The reason you’re still in business

They talk about you; they brag or complain about you. They share information about you in one way or another. In other words, you’re interested because they are the lifeblood of your company. If you remember that, you might just become a whole lot more curious about how they feel and what they think.

#3. You have to communicate with your community.

How do you make friends? By communicating in some way – either by listening, by talking, or both. Through social, the medium is different, but you’re still leaning over the fence, discussing life with your neighbors. With the Internet, the world is much, much smaller.

Here, you communicate through content development. Your blog is the fence; each blog post is the conversation. Share, communicate, and turn your buyers, readers and cheerleaders into friends!

#4. You have to have a plan.

Stop creating chaos. Stop diving through every hoop out there. What is your goal, and how will you achieve it? How will you know if you’re getting somewhere?

The plan you build for your social activities is your weapon; it’s an axe (wielded with a delicate, deft touch, of course). It’s not just a special thing; it’s the ultimate special thing.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, you won’t find the silver bullet in social network, because it’s not the social network. It’s what you do with the network and how you use it.

Your plan is the secret sauce to success because it’s what sets you apart from every other Joe, Frank and Henry jumping on the bandwagon. It is (or should be) unique to your company needs and goals.