“If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants.” ~ Isaac Newton
As a kid, I loved to experiment.
I’d pluck berries from the bushes in the school yard and crush them into a magic potion. I knew it was poisonous, but secretly I believed it could heal every wound, turn frogs into princesses, and make me turn invisible.
One of my favorite toys was my chemistry set. The chemicals that came with it weren’t enough for me. Instead, I emptied Mom’s cleaning closet and mixed up cleaning fluids to create my own chemical. The foaming liquid I created burned a hole through our garden wall. (When Mom discovered what I’d been doing, I was banned from the cleaning closet).
I bungled all my experiments.
I wanted to be a great scientist, and I somehow believed that an 11-year-old kid with no scientific training could uncover a Noble-prize winning formula from a mix of toilet bleach and laundry detergent.
Social media is an experiment.
The only difference is, unlike chemistry, there are no experts. None of us really knows how it works. Not completely. We’re all discovering new things every day.
In the hard sciences, there are final answers. You make a hypothesis. You test it. You find out if you were right or wrong.
In the social sciences, and in social spaces like social media, the answers are never final. Social space is contested space. You can discover trends, and ideas that work, but never absolute truths.
Take going viral as an example. We know that viral is content attention grabbing, entertaining and often funny. Yet only a tiny fraction of the internet’s millions of hilarious videos and blog posts go viral. Most of them are trapped in the long-tail with only a few hundred views.
Who’d have thought when Twitter and Facebook launched they would play a major role in grassroots revolutions across the Middle East?
None of us know exactly what makes social media work, why some people succeed and others who follow the exact same strategy fail.
That’s not to say anything goes on social media. If you’re not bothered about building a loyal following, then sure, anything goes.
But it is to say that, once you’ve learned the basics of social media marketing, once you’ve established a foundation and a following, you’re free to push the boundaries, try out new ideas, be creative.
And being a trailblazer can be the route to success.
Quote-based Twitter accounts are a dime-a-dozen now on social media these days. But the trailblazer of Twitter quotes, @tinybuddha, has built a following of hundreds of thousands on quotes alone.
Copyblogger, one of the web’s biggest writing blogs, was the first to apply copywriting to blogging. Now, everyone’s doing it.
In May 2008, Facebook launched its contest app. We all know where that ended up. Though it took a couple of years for big brands to start using contests to their full potential.
Try something new.
Be a pioneer.
Walk brave new paths.
But don’t be like me with my magic berries and bleach, a bumbling amateur.
Be like Isaac Newton. Stand on the shoulders of giants. Learn what works. Study what makes brands great on social media.
Then – and only then – you can blaze your own trail.
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