Just last year, I became a mother for the first time. My son just turned one (time flies, doesn’t it?) and after being a full time mom and performing various social media marketing tasks throughout, I’ve learned that there are many parallels that can be taken from parenthood that also apply to social media marketing. Let’s take a look at the similarities.
You Need to Do it All the Time
True social media marketing — that is, connecting with your customers and prospects — is a consistent and regular task. One-off campaigns can help drive viral success, but social media is not a “set it and forget it” type of initiative. You need to consistently work at building relationships and not let them be. And you need to be consistently monitoring the space. Silence can hurt you. If you’re not following the conversation regularly, your customers might just flock to your competitors instead.
Similarly, as much as it might feel compelling to neglect your child to perhaps play in the virtual space or to do anything else for that matter, you can’t take lengthy breaks from your kid. Parenthood is a full time job for either the parent or a caretaker. You can’t just give birth to a baby and forget her either. She needs your attention just like your audience does.
You Don’t Get a Vacation
In the online space, there will always be some sort of mention online that is applicable to you in some way. Maybe it’s on Twitter. Maybe it’s on a forum. Maybe it’s on Tip’d. The Internet never sleeps and neither should your online initiatives. As someone who is required to monitor your brand, there will never be a day when all is quiet. It’s kind of why I don’t really take vacations.
Once you’re a parent, there’s no going turning back. As Tony Hung once told me, you can’t put your kid back where he came from. You don’t exactly get a vacation from your kid. Once you’re a parent, you can’t distance yourself from that role. And if you do go on a real vacation, when you get back from that trip, you’ll need to tend to your child yet again and most likely address issues that arose when you were gone.
It’s Going to Be Difficult at First
When you first give birth to a child, you’re in for a challenge. I must have heard the standard “so, are you getting sleep yet?” question a hundred times. (Thankfully, now I am.) For the first few months, a new parent has to worry about the constant waking and sleeping that interrupts your day, regular feedings (and what to do when the baby doesn’t eat), buying new clothes every 2 weeks, doing laundry 3 times more often than you’re used to, the frequent crying, the regular diaper changes — and that’s just about your child. Think about the dynamics that will change with your work environment (maternity/paternity leave, perhaps) and even with your existing partners or family members. Things are changing and they’re changing permanently.
If this is your first time diving in the social media waters, it’s going to be difficult to make a splash. You’ll be creating that Twitter account for the first time, and you’ll have to grow followers. Your Facebook Fan page will have 0 fans. That’s not really convincing social proof. Then, when you’re joining a community for the first time, you’ll need to study the users and slowly build relationships with them. They won’t be easily trusting — after all, you’re probably there to market — so it may be especially difficult getting people on board with your marketing initiatives.
But as you establish yourself, and as your child grows up, it gets easier. No doubt, it will be hard at first. Just keep on trudging and you’ll start seeing breakthroughs.
The Relationship Grows Stronger Each Day
When you meet your customers and prospects online, you’re usually doing so because of some connection with them. There’s some common ground. That’s only the beginning. As you consistently interact with them, offering value and reason to continue following you, that relationship — and even the brand awareness — grows stronger. This is especially true of other social networks, especially ones where you were originally untrusted. MrBabyMan, Digg’s top user, was an unknown once. Through hard work and dedication, Andy has proven himself and people look up to him. Today, he has an incredibly huge following.
Some mothers give birth and don’t immediately form a bond with their child. Others do. I was one of those parents who was in denial during my pregnancy but fell in love immediately following his birth. Yet, it’s incredible to see how that bond grows stronger each and every day as he begins to understand his surroundings and as I realize how lucky I am.
You Need to Nurture It
A newborn is unable to care for itself. It can’t be fed, it can’t clean up after itself, and it definitely won’t like you if you don’t burp it. A regular daily regimen often entails the caretaker role of feeding the child, changing the diapers, burping the baby, changing the clothes, bathing the baby, teaching the baby new things, taking the baby to the doctor or outdoors, putting him down for a nap — the list goes on and on. It’s hard work. And you, as the parent, are responsible for these tasks.
Many companies that have not embraced social media marketing often do so because of the fear of an uncontrolled message. That’s why social media marketers reassure these companies that they may not be able to change what’s being said (nor may they necessarily like it), but they can nurture the perception that people have of companies (see letter N). Yes, you’ll have to work at it, but you can do it.
Sometimes There Will Be Bumps
Sometimes there will be parts of the job that just aren’t fun. Your child may get sick, he doesn’t like his green beans, he might be very unhappy when he’s teething, or he might have a rough patch and revert to a previous sleeping pattern that isn’t ideal. As a parent, your job is just to stick with it. It’s not the best scenario, but hopefully, it’s only temporary.
Similarly, your social media marketing initiatives might sound great until someone goes out and ruins it for you. Perhaps you’ve prepared really well for what you thought would be a great viral video campaign, only to find out that the audience does not care in the slightest. As a social media marketer, you might be ill-prepared for these unpleasant experiences. Still, though, you trudge through it. It isn’t going to be a walk in the park; everything is a learning experience. Life gets better.
Parenthood for me has been an incredible journey, one that I realize now I appreciate wholeheartedly. On the other hand, I’ve been doing the online thing for more than fifteen years. Sometimes it’s tough and requires more attention of me, but it is also incredibly rewarding. The daily gains are substantial.
None of this is easy, but social media marketing isn’t supposed to be. Neither is parenthood. Working at it, though, is extremely powerful, both for the relationships you build online and the ones you grow offline.
Update 6/8/10: Natalie Bourre posted the toddler version of this post with more great parallels!
Photos (with the exception of the first one) provided by Shutterstock.