Twitter recently announced that it was going to remove the 140-character limit on direct messages between users. This is not only long overdue, but it also reveals a key characteristic of social media that we would do well to remember – especially as marketers.
The truth is that social media does not have a single function, but two. And these are quite distinct from each other: social media helps us find, and then (and only then) does it help us connect.
Find: we search for a keyword, we follow a hashtag, we dive into the great swirling stream of social media content. A few things stand out and get our attention. We're off.
Connect: Once we've found sources of information that look promising, we dive deeper because that's where the real value lies. We build connections, we build trust, we start to get something that really makes a difference.
This is often subconscious or even instinctive. But B2B marketers will recognise similarities with the buying funnel here and I think that is a very useful model to remember when thinking about social media marketing. The process of finding interesting material (and people) online is quite different to that of connecting with them and taking the exchange of information onto a deeper level, and it is akin to the process.
So if you're planning social media activities on behalf of your brand think about how you act to accommodate the two different functions.
To be findable: think about quantity, reach, volume. Relevance is important, but at this stage it is broader. There is room for light-heartedness, boldness and lots of visual material. This is often a superficial stage where you are simply trying to gain attention. This is (often, but not necessarily) the domain of marketing departments, who are skilled at cleverly promoting broad messages and helping get a brand noticed.
To be connectable: think about focus, think about one-to-one. Staff your social media channels with people who can deliver one-to-one expertise. This is the place for social selling, ie encouraging sales staff to connect online because they are the ones with the detailed knowledge that prospects want.
So if we map that principle onto Twitter, it's obvious that smaller, 140-character tweets that can be read at a glance are the principal weapon of the marketing team - or those who are trying to be found. The later stages of true connection need a different format, and Twitter's decision to remove the 140-character limit in a conversation stage that requires detailed understanding and exchange of ideas is not only a good one, but long overdue.
(Image courtesy of Duncan Hull via Creative Commons. Thanks Duncan!)