Don’t Be Boring

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Posted on May 14, 2014 by

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Implementing a social media plan can be overwhelming. There are so many questions about choosing the best platform, the best moderator, and the best content to share. The technological landscape shifts like sand under our feet, the data we use to analyze the reach and impact of our social media presence are ephemeral in a really infuriating way, and even the goals we set as content providers are necessarily difficult to measure. So how can we set hard and fast rules about best practices for a field that can be so difficult to quantify?

Sometimes, we can measure social media success with actual numbers. We know how many Twitter followers we have. We know how many likes, comments, and shares we get on Facebook. And we can track how many people like our Valencia-filtered photos versus our Kelvin-filtered photos on Instagram. (I think those are things on Instagram. That’s not one I do a lot.) But those numbers are more circumstantial evidence in the larger question of whether we are achieving our social media goals.

maplesyrup1As with all things interpretation, our goals should answer this question: Are we getting our message out? When I’m asked to review social media outlets for interpretive sites, I’m frequently surprised to see that they deal far more in information and promotion (“Come visit our new exhibit.” “Buy this sweatshirt.” “Donate to our cause.”) than actual interpretation (“Maple syrup is the lifeblood of the Canadian province of Québec, which is responsible for three quarters of the world’s supply.”). This feels like a missed opportunity to me, like a museum using exhibits to direct visitors to the gift shop.

So, as we struggle to measure and quantify our social media success, I propose this one-and-only, hard-and-fast, unmeasurable rule of social media: Don’t be boring.

I’ve often been intrigued by research (mostly because this research makes me feel better about myself) that says that people who are physically attractive are more likely to be boring conversationalists. The premise is that attractive people don’t get the visual cues that they’re being boring that the rest of us get because we normals are happy to be talking to an attractive person and will listen to anything they have to say. On the other hand, we uglies have to be engaging and interesting in our desperate attempts to keep the beautiful people from averting their gaze from our repulsive faces.

In an article about one such study on Business Insider, researcher Lihi Segal-Caspi says, “Beautiful people tend to focus more on conformity and self-promotion than independence and tolerance.”

When I apply this to social media—especially interpretive social media—is there anything worse than being accused of conformity and self-promotion? We’re not some vapid, handsome face. We’re the Lorax! We speak for the trees! (And whatever the cultural/historical equivalent of the Lorax is!)

When I conduct social media workshops with interpreters, the main point I try to drive home is not about how the technology works or how to use hashtags (or whatever), but how interpreters should be interpretive on social media. Not only does interesting, interpretive online content get your important messages out into the world, it’s more likely to help you achieve your social media goals. Interpretive content, which by its very nature is meant to provoke an audience, is more likely to be shared around by your followers, and is therefore more likely to gain you more followers who are interested in the content you’re sharing. As you build your social media audience through interesting content, you’ll have more eyes to see the (occasional) boring program announcement that you need to share.

Granted, if you’re a well-known site, you might gain followers just out of pure brand recognition (the social media equivalent of attractiveness). But if you’re only posting about the change in your weekend hours or the new line of sweatshirts in your online store, you’re not doing anything to spread your message or achieve your goals, and you’ve become the online equivalent of an empty-headed beauty.

Last month, I attended the NAI International Conference in Suncheon, South Korea, along with fellow Media Platypus author Cal Martin (that’s us at the top of this post with rangers from Korea’s first national park, Jirisan). Cal’s keynote addressed the creative ways that interpreters in Canada deal with the challenges of rapidly changing audiences. My favorite such method that Cal documented was Parks Canada rangers talking to visitors from inside a baby bear costume—a bear costume that was so realistic some visitors asked if it was real even after they heard it talk. 

Interpreters online are faced with the same challenges in a landscape of cat videos and short attention spans, and need to exhibit the same sort of creativity when generating content. So before you hit that “Post” button with your next social media update, the first question you need to ask yourself  might seem obvious, but it’s the only one that matters: Is it boring?

Response to Don’t Be Boring

  1. Laurie Schwartz

    Thanks for the shout-out, Paul. That’s my baby bear you mention at the end of your article. Glad you liked it. We’ve had great success with Digger the Grizzly, and I’m always looking for inspiration for the “next big thing”! I believe that marketing and interpretation can share a lot of common ground. Instead of selling products, we are selling ideas. In either world, surprise, delight, and creativity help a message to stick.

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