In college, one of my pals bought an 80-watt Dynaco stereo control amp kit and painstakingly built it over four months. That fall, he pulled a 0.2 GPA -- a lost semester that cost him, after figuring in his $30 savings on the amp, about two thousand 1974 dollars. I bought the identical model, pre-assembled, and listened to music while he soldered.
The point of the story? One is to beware of false economies. The other is that I’m no DIY boy.
I happen to follow Radio Shack on Twitter, but not to get the latest deals on capacitors or some such. I do almost nothing myself, and if I could hire someone to brush my teeth I would. Truth be told, I only started following Radio Shack because I was trying to do some work for the now-departed CMO. But the tweets still pop up on my screen, and the other day one captured my attention:
“The ability to stop time exists... if you calibrate a camera’s frame rate to match the frequency of water vibrations http://shack.net/LPEIPX”
Hmm. Unusual. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing Radio Shack tweets about deals on new products and promotional offers. (Example: “RT if you're ready for a new phone. @RadioShack will give you $5 to let us check your eligibility. http://pic.twitter.com/c3hEoySJ”)
And on Friday, when TechCrunch reported that Facebook engineers had rewired the NASDAQ opening-of-trading button to instantaneously share the company’s moment of truth as a story on Mark Zuckerberg’s Timeline -- and used Radio Shack components to do it -- it was a no-brainer for Radio Shack to retweet. (“RT the most epic button push ever. NASDAQ button hacked w/ @RadioShack parts to update Mark Zuckerberg’s FB page. http://shack.net/KIUDy3”)
But water vibrations? Why pass that along?
Here’s why: because it was cool.
The link led to a Gizmodo post of an amazing video, appearing to capture flowing water droplets suspended in time and space. The effect was accomplished by passing the tube of flowing water over a loudspeaker, vibrating at a certain frequency. This was photographed by a digital videocam whose refresh rate had been adjusted to match the speaker vibration. The resulting playback was super totally fascinating in every way.
No deal on stereo speakers was promoted. Or digital cameras. Or anything else to do with the Radio Shack brand. The only connection to Radio Shack was the brand’s natural connection to a community that would find this video worthwhile. Look, if it was cool to me, can you imagine how it played to the geekosphere? Better than “Game of Thrones.”
Isn’t that how social media is supposed to work? Or else they’d call it “sales media.”
“Having a conversation is not just pushing products all the time,” says Billy Roberts, who handles Radio Shack’s Twitter presence for a third-party agency. “We obviously have a lot of scheduled messaging: ‘Here are the promotions, here are the products that are coming out.’ But as much as I can, I try to share things to engage the audience, which is what the social media space is for, if you ask me.”
How subversive. Treating the people in your social circles like friends you like to share stuff with. Being thoughtful. Strengthening connections. Cultivating relationships. Weird.
“I try to do at least four or five of those sorts of posts a week,” Roberts says. “They tend to be DIY projects that Radio Shack customers have built. Where I find this stuff, is I personally subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds for blogs where people upload their projects.”
Mind you, Roberts does devote the lion’s share of his tweets to Radio Shack-specific matters, and -– hand it to the guy –- when invited to grouse about clients abusing the social space as a virtual Advo bag, he doesn’t take the bait. The precise question was: “Billy, shouldn’t the majority of tweets be there not to sell but to cultivate common ground?”
“That’s not exactly what we’re here for,” he replied. “We’re here to help the client get the messaging across that they want to on their channels, so what we try to do, as much as possible, is marry the two worlds. We want to engage the audience and make the client happy and then everybody wins.”
Maybe. Or maybe he was just being diplomatic. (In tracking him down, I was a bit surprised the work wasn’t done in-house. Alas, I can’t mention Roberts’ agency because, as it turns out, it is one I do business with.) But having recently spent a day with social media execs at major multinational brands, I have the distinct impression they would like their management to stop thinking of Twitter and Facebook as “messaging channels” and start embracing them for what they are: places to share with fans, friends, potential friends, casual acquaintances and total strangers, so that the brand might be liked, trusted and maybe even admired.
Sending something cool to people who you suspect will find it cool is cool. Using Twitter, et al, as a medium for free advertising is a fantastic method for boring or scaring people off. As my college pal learned the hard way, it is ruinous trying to save money by assembling something you don’t understand.