Guest Genius: David Alston

Each Tuesday, we’re happy to turn over our blog space to a GuestGenius, someone who can give a fantastic and fascinating perspectiveabout making word of mouth work.

This week’s guest genius:
David Alston
VP, Marketing at Radian6
Leader in the field of social media measurement

Social media is one of the biggest tools in today’s WOM marketers’ toolkit. David Alston, of social media monitoring company Radian6, offers six great tips for getting into social media.

Learning from the “New Kid” at school

The school year is just getting started. And being the new kid at school can be tough.

Fitting in, making new friends, becoming part of a new community with unfamiliar rules.  Businesses beginning their adventures in social media can face many of the same challenges.

Kids that start off by blabbing on and on about themselves – how great they are at sports, how many friends they have – quickly repel the new crowd. It’s not subtle, it’s self-centered, and nobody’s going to listen for long. 

Instead, the successful new kids deploy a more subtle strategy. They listen a lot first, absorbing the dynamics of their new friends and learning about them first.  They’ll only talk about themselves later, when they’ve forged some connections and their new friends start asking questions out of genuine interest.

These kids understand the social process, and the steps that go along with it. Companies can adopt this method when investing in a social media presence:

1. Listening
Start off by listening for mentions of your brand.  But don’t stop there.  Also listen for mentions of competitors and your industry in general.  It’s not just about listening for issues.    It’s also about recognizing opportunities for developing new relationships.

2. Learning
With listening comes lots of learning.  What are people saying about your brand, your brand’s competitors, your industry? Who’s speaking the loudest, and what are they talking about most? Companies can uncover critical information to improve their business – from identifying industry influencers to uncovering new ideas for product features and intelligence about what the competition is up to.

3. Connecting
Successful companies indicate genuine interest in people. Connecting can be as simple as following someone on Twitter or Friendfeed when they show interest in your industry, or your brand.  It could be subscribing to their blog’s RSS feed or joining a group they are involved in on Ning or Facebook.  Think of it as a way to extend out your hand for a simple handshake, to basically say “hello.”  It’s a pretty non-committal way of saying “I think you are interesting.”

4. Responding
Generally this means commenting on what others are saying in a meaningful way.  The comments are usually positive, and contribute something of value to the overall discussion. It could be a “thank you” for a compliment about your brand or helping to solve a problem related to your products or areas of expertise.

5. Participating
Now that you better understand the community and you’ve developed a few relationships, it’s time to actively participate in the discussion.  Join in on conversations about topics you care about with people you share something in common with.  You’ll be able to find more like-minded friends, and demonstrate both your knowledge and your interest in others.

6. Sharing
Building relationships creates trust among your friends and community. You feel completely comfortable being yourself because you know you’ve earned acceptance and respect. Others are open to hearing more about your thoughts and ideas – they’ll want to read your blog, or follow your Twitter account, or ask your opinion.  The stories you tell should still add value to the conversation and contribute something interesting to the community.

New kids in school follow this path to develop new friendships. Companies and brands navigating the new waters of social media can follow their lead to build a community, create brand advocates, and make friends for the long haul.

Learn more from this Genius:



  1. online strategist John Lawlor

    David’s preference order is right on the money — “Listening, Learning, Connecting, Responding, Participating, Sharing” and applies right across all all social interactions but requires a degree of self-confidence often lacking in offline situations.

    Too often the “new kid” feels the need to make immediately ‘participate and share’ — before they have taken the time to listen and get a sense of the existing social environment or situation.

    Online or offline — social requires thought and consideration before opinions.

  2. Marc Meyer

    I agree with John. I like the order as well. You have to slowly build up to this and with that ramp up, are distinct steps. Although, the last 2 coule esily be integrated earlier on without any type of fallout.

  3. David Alston

    John – thanks for your comment. I like your point about the confidence required. It got me thinking – I wonder what makes people want to skip the steps and go directly to the “sharing”? Perhaps it is a lack of confidence and/or patience. Hard to say.

    Marc – You are right, it may be possible to accelerate the last two steps especially when a point of need arrives during the build up. If someone needs the information you possess and you are willing to share then more than likely you can jump from connecting right to the end.

  4. Debbie Curtis-Magley

    David – great comparison with being the “new kid” and a brand trying to engage in online conversations.

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