Six ways to innovate with social media

Chris Street Commercial Content Creator, Bristol Editor

Posted on November 29th 2010

For a while now, I've been looking at what a few marketing agencies, traditional PR consultancies and fresh-on-the-block digital marketers are doing on social media platforms. And it concerns me.


Because I don’t see much innovation – which, by definition, means ‘something new, and contrary to established customs, manners, or rites’ in the mix.

Hardly anything new or exciting. Very little risk-taking, and nowhere near enough authentic conversation. It’s often a case of same old, same old. Such a shame, given the huge, positive, amazing potential that such platforms represent.

Corporate, safe, sterile, anodyne presences.

I can hear almost hear the comments in these Boardrooms, as social media engagement is discussed.

Comments such as, “let’s get a Facebook fan page”, or “make sure we get the newest Agency account executive to pop some content on a Twitter account” or even “cut and paste the newsletter onto a blog page, that’ll do” – without first asking that crucial question ‘why’ which should underpin all social media activity and engagement.

I’ve even seen – horror of horrors – a digital marketing agency engaging in direct marketing via Twitter. A scam-based ‘campaign’ designed solely to get hold of email addresses for future direct selling. Awful.

I blogged about it here at the time, seeing as I was one of the unfortunate individuals to be spammed.

Here are six ways to use social media with innovation in mind:

1. Take an interest in other people – and pass on their content. It will get you noticed – the Law of Attraction. It really does work: these people will notice you back, in time, and reciprocate.

2. Take risks – be authentic, speak with your actual voice on social media platforms. Get the vibe of your business or Agency out there: let people know what working with you looks like, feels like.

3. Be real – don’t tell me about how many new widgets you manufactured this month, let the person who actually makes them tell their personal story. Your business is brilliant, but you have to get this story out there – from each employee outwards.

4. Be selective – don’t set up a Facebook page if you don’t have to. Select which social media platforms are best – it may be that your business or Agency only needs a real presence on one or two – and focus your attention, effort, and energy there.

5. Be unique – don’t copy what your competitors are doing: show your audience the uniqueness in your business or Agency, give them your biggest unique asset, your people. Get everybody involved, to tell their stories in a way which makes your business or Agency so attractive, natural engagement form others will follow.

6. Stop talking and start listening – too many Agencies (PRs are the worst culprits) are so busy shouting about how brilliant they are, and how many industry (navel-gazing) awards they’ve won, they forget the audience. Less broadcasting, more listening please.

These six simple steps, executed over a few months, will transform and innovate social media engagement for you. Guaranteed.


Chris Street

Commercial Content Creator, Bristol Editor

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Posted on November 29th 2010 at 12:26PM

Hi Chris thanks for this article. Very insightful.

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 1:34AM

You're welcome Pervara!

Posted on November 29th 2010 at 2:54PM

Straightforward, honest, and helpful. I've just recently become convinced that social media is really important to growing my business. Your advice is concise and valuable. Thanks!

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 1:33AM

Much appreciated Renee

Concise and valuable is exactly what I try to deliver - glad it hit the spot.

Posted on November 29th 2010 at 2:58PM

Love point number 1 and the Law of Attraction reference! No doubt that is how the universe works!

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 1:32AM

Thanks Dino

I think there is much to be said for point number 1 - there are still too many 'shouters' out there.

Posted on November 30th 2010 at 3:52AM

This is a great post with a great content. The thoughts are very practical and more marketers can really relate on it. Getting track of todays innovations is such an advantage especially when it has something to do with making money online. 

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 1:32AM

Thanks Brenda!

Pleased you found the ideas on thinking more innovatively useful.

Posted on November 30th 2010 at 11:06AM

My favorites are numbers 4 and 6. Especially 6 - many people just do not want to listen, they just think they know everything.

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 12:05PM

Hi Lainie

I couldn't of put it any better - many thanks.

Posted on November 30th 2010 at 5:44PM

I'm not sure what you;ve spelt out is truly innovative. i've seen these items mentioned elsewhere.

this would be truly innovative.

treat the people you interact with in one of two ways.

1. it is a social relationship where social norms prevail i.e. you forget to bring my lawnmower back on time, but you said sorry (i didnt try and sting you for a late fee as thats not social)


2. you interact with them on a market basis where you spell out your value proposition and what they can expect of you.

mix the two of these up and like the song... "there will be trouble ahead....."

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 12:03PM

Hi Mike

Many thanks for your comments and suggestions - much appreciated.

The social media scene in North America is leading the way, and to be fair and introduce a bit of balance into the mix regarding one or two dismissive comments here, the UK social media scene is not as advanced as yet: businesses and individuals in the UK are not as far down the social media road as our American counterparts.

What North American social media consultants might class as 'obvious' 'common sense' or 'widely used' are not, in fact, the case as yet in the UK. British social media strategies are following the excellent lead taken as far as they are able to at this point. It is worth recognising the differences in social media evolution between the UK and USA.

That aside, I agree mike - it's all about relationships. And these differ hugely in context across The Pond, it seems. The USA approach to social media strategy is, at this point, more aggressive and targeted than much of the social media strategies being adopted by smaller businesses and individuals in the UK.

I'm sure this will develop and evolve over time, but I am talking about simple, relationship-based steps for the British businesses and individuals looking to engage fully and effectively via social media platforms.

As I am sure you'll appreciate, context and audience relevance are key. And in that, the USA and UK differ.

Many thanks again - I enjoyed your comments.

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 1:38PM

Hi Chris,

Just looking at some of the statements in your reply:

The social media scene in North America is leading the way, and to be fair and introduce a bit of balance into the mix regarding one or two dismissive comments here, the UK social media scene is not as advanced as yet:


The USA approach to social media strategy is, at this point, more aggressive and targeted than much of the social media strategies being adopted by smaller businesses and individuals in the UK.

While this might be so in some areas, I don't think it is as much in others. There are a ton of great UK individuals and businesses that are showing the rest of the world how it's done. Check out Jim Connolly, Shannon Boudjema and Barry Furby for starters, or Social Media Monday.

Howver, let's say that the problem is the fact that the UK isn't as advanced. Is it a good approach to continue with what's already been said "across the pond" with regards the basics, or to actually be more advanced in what's been taught to businesses in the UK?

Ys, conversation and listening and all these other points are well and good, but they're not offering real strategy or brininging in the dollars (or pounds) that business owners need. Sugar-footing around actionable strategy isn't the answer they need; true innovation, and how to be better than North America (or anywhere else) is.

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 1:57PM

Hi again Danny

Many thanks for your insights - much appreciated.

There is a clear mis-understanding of context here. Of course, there is some great work being delivered on SM here in the UK. That was not the point I made. I was referring to the fact that the USA is still, on a number of levels, leading the way in SM development, tools, techniques and related areas.

It must be incredibly exciting to be based there, and right in the middle of it all.

I wasn't replicating comments already made by USA-based 'experts' 'gurus' or whatever else some SM consultants wish to coin themselves. My only interest is the audience engaging with SM, the business owners trying it out and feeling confused, the Agencies trying to get their heads around it, and the solo entrepreneurs looking to do something different on social media platforms.

These audiences in the UK (stresses UK) are my focus. They are the audiences I observe and engage with daily.

As for discussing whether North America is 'better' or not than the UK - that is not where I came from, at all! I am surprised you've taken this as a relevant part of the discussion.

For me, the only thing that counts is whether the clients, the audiences, and the potential readerships are getting something of use and value from genuine, original, relationship-based content on the blogs I post for them.

As the saying goes 'when you give, you receive' - and I am sure you can relate to that, given your field of expertise.

I appreciate your upfront comments from across the Pond. I choose to embrace our differences. Thank you.

Posted on December 2nd 2010 at 1:00AM

I guess when I see "leading the way" and "following the excellent lead" in your reply to Mike, I take that as you viewing the US is "better". 

I only moved to Canada in 2006 - I'm from the UK, and saw companies and businesses doing the six points online long before social media was termed as such.

I agree, when you give you receive - but in business it's when you deliver that you receive, and as Leigh shares so well in her comment above mine, that's where true innovation should be targeting, as opposed to what others would see as common sense. It's a shame you chose to pass over her points.


Leigh Durst
Posted on December 1st 2010 at 1:45PM


My comment still holds in that what you call innovative is really simple admonitions to people who don't know any better and who are starting from ground zero. This really isn't innovative, Chris. 

Having a fair share of friends on the other side of the pond, I'd say that you owe companies in the UK something *better* than the tripe that has stalled many American companies, large and small.  I don't care how "behind" you believe they are -- it's time to replace high level adminitions and buzz word bingo with practical and wise counsel that is highly actionable.  Encouraging people to  like "be real" and "authentic" (plenty of companies are REALly bad, AUTHENTICally Flawed) is like sprinkling feel good fairy dust on a very misunderstood business area.

Established best practices are best practices in every market... they are not innovations.  There are just far too many case studies out there to be learned from that demonstrate best-practices.  There are also too many out there that demonstrate the strategic extension of business using these tools to ignore.  To suggest this learning is not immediately actionable or relevant for the UK doesn't seem at all fair minded. I feel the positioning of your logic undermines people's intelligence and positions them to start from scratch.

These are business tools. They should be strategically used.  When you start thinking of them as tools and apply best practices from advanced markets... you point companies toward real innovation...


Posted on December 1st 2010 at 6:25PM

Hi Leigh

Thank you for your opinions.

Posted on November 30th 2010 at 6:30PM

How are any of these innovative?

They're all either vague suggestions, common sense or have been stated by countless other "social media experts".

"These six simple steps, executed over a few months, will transform and innovate social media engagement for you. Guaranteed"

What does that even mean?

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 11:55AM

Hi David

Many thanks for your inputs - please refer to my response to Danny, as it covers the same ground, really.

Posted on November 30th 2010 at 10:53PM

Hi Chris,

I've read this, re-read it, and sorry but I'm stumped - I don't see how any of the six points you list are innovative in any way. Businesses are already doing all of these, and have been for a while.

I was hoping for real innovation. 

For example, let's say you're a multi-national company wondering how best to utilize Twitter. Instead of the usual approach, why not consider hiring a multi-lingual team to connect in the native language of your audience on Twitter. Look at cultural holidays in these countries and see if you can offer a promotion that ties in with it. Have dedicated landing pages on your website for your different audience, and tweet direct links to it in the language needed. Once there, have a call-to-action purely for that nationality.

Saying you need to talk, share and listen is pretty much what everyone else says as standard approaches to social media, not innovative.

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 1:31AM

Hi Danny

Thank for your opinion.

I was interested to see part of your comment stating "Businesses are already doing all of these, and have been for a while" as from what I have seen, the majority of businesses are not, in fact, using the 6 common-sense points in their social media strategies at all. Far from it, in fact. Many - particulary corporates and multi-national companies - are playing it safe and not thinking with innovation in mind.

Hence, pointers such as listening, talking and sharing become quite an innovative approach for these in-house marketing teams who are following the herd by being broadcast, traditional marketers on social media platforms.

It was as much a call for innovative thinking in old-school corporate marketing when on social media sites more than anything else, which I was highlighting on the post, rather than a list or an example of how to 'do' something different, as you tried to show. I hope this helps your understanding of where I felt innovation is lacking.

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 1:45PM

Perhaps the post could have been rephrased to show that? As I mention, innovation should be about doing stuff that very few others are doing. There are a ton of companies using all the points you lay out in the post, from SME's to corporate.

On the corporate side, look at Dell, BT, Virgin, JetBlue, NHL, Starbucks, McDonalds, IBM, Hilton Hotels, Zeneca and others. From SME's, look at Zappos (big now), Smith Family Farms, Chapters Indigo, etc.

I think it's easy to say businesses aren't utilizing the points you make, as opposed to showing the ones that are. If the likes of Nestle, BP and Skittles didn't show companies that they need to improve, then perhaps they'll never understand.

But I'd still like to see real innovation as opposed to a refresher class on communication skills.

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 6:18PM

Hi again Danny

Thank you for your opinions.

Leigh Durst
Posted on December 1st 2010 at 2:10AM

Chris, I left a detailed comment early today. It shows up in my account as in moderation. You've obviously been here to approve other comments and leave feedback.  Just wondering what the hold up is on mine?  :-)

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 11:23AM

Hi Leigh,

I'm the moderator for SMT and was sick with the flu yesterday and wasn't able to check pending comments until this morning.  So it's my fault, not Chris'. Sorry for the delay.


Leigh Durst
Posted on December 1st 2010 at 11:32AM

Ah Brenda, Sorry to hear you were sick. I just didn't understand why other people's comments were making it up while mine were not.  E.g. Danny's...  I hope you are feeling better!


Posted on December 1st 2010 at 11:43AM

Thanks, I think our tech team just emailed you separately about how the process works.  Once a member's comment has been approved, all subsequent comments from that member will also be approved.  So if a member makes routine comments, they won't get stuck in the moderation queue.  We do that to safeguard against spammers.

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 11:53AM

Hi Brenda

Hope you're back on form - and many thanks for your comment here, much appreciated.

Posted on December 1st 2010 at 11:51AM

Hi Leigh

I have no moderation control over SMT comments - see below.

Leigh Durst
Posted on November 30th 2010 at 5:40PM

Hi Chris,

Guess I differ from the rest of our audience in that I see nothing innovative about what you're saying here.  You're merely repeating what other social media "experts" are saying en mass - by admonishing best practices for social media execution.

Unfortunately, I think your advice goes more toward creating more "corporate, safe, sterile, anodyne presences" than proper counsel might.  In my opinon, that counsel would be this:

Use social media to strategically extend your business.

When people adopt the mindset to listen, learn, respond and serve people (and other businesses) using these tools, they typically tap into innovative uses for them.

Just my .02 cents. I mean absolutely no disrespect here.

Posted on December 6th 2010 at 5:02PM

While I think all of your points are well thought out and informative they are by no mean innovative.  These are the ideas and points that champions of Social Media Marketing have been trying to get across to the general public for some time now.  And while it is always good to have another voice chiming in you should have really put more thought into the basis of the title and opening argument.  As far as wanting to change the way we do things I would point to the wheel I wouldn't go and try to improve on it's basic design that's already perfect, you can however enhance how well it works and the aesthetics of it.  Which is what we should be focusing on now with Social Media Marketing.

Posted on December 7th 2010 at 2:53PM

Hi Bill

Thank you for your opinions.

Posted on December 23rd 2010 at 9:49AM


OMG!  reverse the order of the list and it will be a great starter set!  "Less broadcasting, more listening please." is the essence here. Agree?


Posted on December 26th 2010 at 7:40AM

Hi Kathy

Mnay thanks for your input.

Posted on December 26th 2010 at 3:15AM

yeah, there are great people in this world. They think, imagine,

explore, innovate & inspire. Mark Zukerberg, Larry Page and many
more are there...!

they do this all at the early ages of their life.
take a look at how and when to innovate on the following link.

Posted on December 26th 2010 at 7:40AM

Great link - many thanks!