An interesting confluence of occurrences has crystallized some of my thoughts on social media.

Yesterday while waiting for a table at a local bar-and-grill En and I started talking about Cleveland Foodie’s article on social media. From just looking at the name of her blog it’s obvious that the bulk of the advice is going to be aimed at restaurants. There are some deeper truths in there too.

Food has the advantage that most people like it. Some would argue that too many people like it too much, but that’s another topic. The industry I play is isn’t exciting at all – people would rather never think of it. However the rules in play are the same. Social media is all about human interaction.

When attaching to social media you need to make sure you embrace the social side of it. Think of it as going to a party. You always have to respect the social contract of interaction between people. Think about how you want to be treated.

Sure, some people are louder than others, but very few people get popular by shouting and never listening to others. Social media is the same. You shouldn’t stand up on the proverbial table and shout. If at this party you run into the guy that’s only interested in selling you a new furnace and never talks about anything else would you voluntarily go up to him to start a conversation? Of course not… unless you need a new furnace that is. People aren’t looking just spam from you, they’re looking for you.

It’s not about getting fans or followers. It’s about engaging the people around you in conversation. By “conversation” I don’t mean “sales pitch” either; people get enough of that from normal media. Be you. Be real. Engage.

So, I’ve written a bunch about what this isn’t. What is it?

That’s harder to explain. But lets take an example from Four Square — it’s about letting your friends know about experiences you’ve had. If they know you had a good experience with the annoying furnace guy, they might seek him out to fix their furnace. (Just remember: don’t really try to talk to him unless you want more shop talk!) If you had poor service at the restaurant maybe your friends won’t go there and the service will have to get fixed. It’s closing the loop between you, your friends and who or whatever you’re interacting with.

Of course, you might want to give some motivation to your customers (or potential customers) to talk about you. Some taco joint near Web 2.0 was giving away tacos to people that checked in on Four Square. A local restaurant is giving their mayor 40% off. Those are very direct ways of engaging, but sometimes a simple request might do: “I fixed this furnace for you and I was able to do it quicker than anyone else you asked — why don’t you tell your friends you know a good furnace guy? I’d really appreciate it. I mostly live off of word-of-mouth; that’s how I keep my prices low.”

People don’t get all cozy with faceless corporations — they get close to people. Make sure that the you’re still a person, or at the very least people. Take a look at how Moosejaw does it for example. They have people actively working with their audience to keep things fun and entertaining on both their Facebook and Twitter feeds. They seem to understand social.

Above all, make sure you keep the social part of it alive. It’s a two-way street. If you’re just shouting at the crowd, you’re missing the point.