Social media marketing is like riding a bike

Posted by Matt Hayden on Wednesday, February 10, 2016
An analogy is often an effective way of describing how something works. And it can be particularly useful for those who are new to a field, interest or skill. So here's one for social media marketing: It helps to think of whichever network you've chosen as being a lot like a bicycle. 

While digital technology is far more intricate and sophisticated than the humble old bike, when all is said and done it's still just basically a machine that enables you to do something efficiently. In the case of a bike you use it to get from A to B. With Facebook, Twitter and the like all you're really trying to do is find people to connect with, have conversations with them and thereby build your authority in their minds. You then leverage this to sell or promote your service, product, or cause. 

So, it's pretty straightforward. But people often get a bit daunted by the awesome sophistication of the technology in this case -- particularly if they are very new to it. To briefly use another analogy they "can't see the wood for the trees" -- or, more accurately, the people for the screen. In the end, it's just a way of doing what we all do everyday in the real world, namely communicate with each other.

But in terms of the bike comparison: Imagine you had never ridden one before, so you're keen to master this skill. You go out and buy a shiny brand new Malvern Star. But rather than just emulating what you've seen other people do, you try and figure out how it all works intellectually first. You look closely at the spokes, the gears, the brake cables. You get so caught up in all this stuff that you get a bit lost in it. So when you finally sit on the seat and grab the handlebars you've got all these different processes you're trying to remember simultaneously. This, combined with the stress on your nervous system of learning to pedal and balance is too much. Overwhelmed, you give up. 

I know from my teaching experience that something similar often happens with social media. Newbies have a Twitter account, say, that someone else has created or them. They see buttons and boxes on the screen. They don't want to touch anything because they 're worried they'll wreck what's been set up. They think they need to be a geek to operate their account. 

But it's not like this at all. They've made the mistake of complicating things. They've already got everything they need, yet don't give themselves enough credit for this. Really, they just have to sit down, grab the handlebars (mouse and keyboard) and start pedalling (following, tweeting, engaging). They've got to stop thinking about the technological machinations and just use them instead.

Just as you'll wobble on a bike at first as you try to maintain your balance on it and your feet might slip off the pedals, so too will you get flustered by the buttons and boxes on the screen. But every time you log in and use your account it gets easier and more enjoyable. 

In both cases you've just got to remember what your ultimate goal is: On a bike it's got move in the direction you choose. On social media it's to find and connect with other real humans. 

Sure, you have to muddle through things. It won't happen immediately. But it won't take too long before the skills you need are automatic. They've become part of your subconscious. Like anything, the more you use these skills, the better you get at them.

Then there's the momentum factor: If you pedal for a while and build up your speed, you can have a break and coast for a while. Something similar happens on social media (although it's over a much longer time frame). If you keep connecting and engaging with people, you eventually end up being seen by so many people that they start to come to you. Often when you log in after sustained use of your account and you'll see that several people have followed you. You think, where did they come from? You didn't seek them out and approach them yourself. This is a positive benefit from all the time and energy you've put in previously. So, the longer you engage with others on social media, the easier it is to build a following. 

The last way that social media is like riding a bike? You never forget how to do it. And once you've mastered one model, it's heaps easier to master all the others, too. 

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