Social media for the uncool

When I attended Social Media Week in New York last year, I met a woman who ran marketing and communications for a pest control company based on the Lower East Side.

When I attended Social Media Week in New York last year, I met a woman who ran marketing and communications for a pest control company based on the Lower East Side. After one session, she turned to me and sighed. She wanted social media advice, but she didn't know how to apply it to a brand that was, frankly, uncool. Who was going to like a Facebook page for a business that deals with bugs?

This year, the agency Global Strategy Group addressed such dilemmas in its Social Media Week workshop on Wednesday entitled “How to be Un-Cool and Social.” The session, led by the firm's digital and social VP Marshall Maher and director Hugh McMullen, was designed for organizations that are not household names, do not sell cutting-edge consumer products, and are not viewed as cool.

Maher and McMullen shared three key social media principles that can be applied to all brands, hip or not. First, showing is better than telling. Appealing to people's emotions on social media can be effective, but so is appealing to their intellect. Finally, the Internet is made up of human beings, so social media should connect a company's work with real people.

To show these principles in action, Maher and McMullen pointed to the example of utility company Con Edison. Con Edison often interacts with people on social media in response to complaints or angry rants about service outages, but the company needed to move beyond this defensive stance. Global Strategy Group discovered that Con Edison held a vast archive of historic photos of New York City and Con Edison workers. The agency proposed that the company share these photos on social media channels to visually show the complexity and long history behind its work. The photos would appeal to social media users who are interested in history and New York, and they would also connect the company's business to how people live. 

Here's another simple example: a hardware company could publish a video on YouTube of an employee demonstrating how to use one of its products. That clip probably wouldn't become the next Gangnam Style, but it would still serve as an important communications tool. As Maher and McMullen explained, the purpose of social media is not just to go viral, but to help tell a brand's story, explain its products and services, and manage its reputation.

As for the pest control company in lower Manhattan, the head of comms went on to create a YouTube video explaining how to detect bed bugs. It might not have been hip, but her social solution helped connect her company's business with a real-life problem faced by many people in their daily lives. She told me later that the video got thousands of views.

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