Social media is a two-way street. The things that set Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (and Vine, SnapChat, Yik Yak, Tumblr, Instagram, Pintrest, reddit, Digg, 4chan…you get the idea) apart from traditional media is that the people you’re talking to can talk back. A lot of the hot new things in the social media world (I’m looking at you, Whisper) give us even more freedom to talk with anyone, about anything, on completely equal footing.

So why don’t we treat it that way? All too often in PR we (or our clients) insist on using social media as another channel to push out content and ignore its potential as a source of meaningful engagement. If a consumer reads your blog post and likes it, that’s good. If they read it, like it, tweet a question about it and get an answer back, that’s much better. They’re going to be impressed and feel more of a personal attachment to that brand.

If we treat social media as just another lead source for our digital marketing, we’re not using the medium to its fullest potential. Facebook adjusted its algorithm in January to cut down on the number of promotional posts that appear in your news feeds. They found (surprise, surprise) that people don’t like to see promotions that they don’t care about. Restrictive brand guidelines and too little personality in your posts can leave them reading like cut-and-pasted versions of marketing copy. If all your Tweets are just about you, people will notice. As part of a client’s LinkedIn program, I’ve been monitoring several LinkedIn Groups with active user bases. Posts asking for help on a specific industry problem regularly get 15-30 relevant, helpful replies. Posts with clickbait titles linked back to marketing blog posts? None.

Screaming twitter bird That said, there is a huge difference between blindly pushing out your stuff and delivering quality material to an interested target audience. And getting customer responses on social media is not always positive. If you’ve ever read the comments section of a controversial YouTube, you know how rude, irrelevant or offensive some people can be online. That’s just a fact of life on the Internet. But if we’re going to thrive in this new medium, we need to find the answers to these problems instead of pretending they don’t exist. So try something new. Host a Twitter chat. Comment on a LinkedIn discussion that won’t earn you anything. Send a thank-you SnapChat to your loyal customers. And when you get comments, Tweets, Snaps or Pins in reply, make sure you respond to them.