One year ago I made a decision that changed my life forever. I didn’t have any expectations as I sold everything I owned and bought the best luggage for, and a one way ticket to, Spain. I figured I may learn a bit about other cultures or drink some sangria by the ocean. I was young, inexperienced and dangerously open-minded. While I did drink my fair share of sangria (trust me), I ultimately came away from my trip with much more than just a buzz.
I learned how to reframe and systematically prioritize my objectives in life. Trust me not everyone would gain the same lessons that I had from living out of a small backpack for a year. But for me, it was transformative and taught me most of what I know about people and consequently marketing as well.
Here’s what I learned:
Go Where the Locals Eat
A common issue you’ll run into when you enter a new city is finding a reliable place to eat. By reliable I mean: doesn’t leave you immobilized and cramping the next morning. You can scour the top TripAdvisor reviews for the best place, but you’ll usually end up in a soulless tourist trap. Every seasoned traveler knows to keep an eye open for the small nondescript taco stand with a line of locals wrapped around the corner.
The same can be said for social media. Avoid following advice from “tourists” who don’t actually understand or use the space as intended. Go listen to the locals, follow regular users and learn from them. As marketers it can be so hard for us to remember that most people use social media for their everyday life. We’re so entrenched in analytics and trends that we end up disrespecting the space. You will never find a local eating in a Hard Rock Cafe, just as you’ll never find a Twitter native responding to a constant barrage of links to your website. So, go where your users are and learn their language. Speak to them like humans and respect their attention because you’re in their space and they don’t owe you anything.
Ask yourself: How are people using social media in their everyday life? What are they saying, what voice do they respond to and how are they using the medium? How can I add value to their social real estate with my thoughts?
Learn to Value Relationships
Life on the road can be tremendously lonely. Friends tend to come in peaks and valleys. Typically you’ll be alone for days or weeks at a time until you find a fun club and are suddenly overwhelmed with new faces and names. However, without fail the next day everyone will go their separate ways, leaving you right back where you started.
This lifestyle forces you to appreciate quality over quantity with your relationships. When you travel you only have time to stay in touch with maybe 10% of the people you meet.
The same can be seen in social marketing as well. Focusing on how many followers we have is something we’re all guilty of. Watching that number grow is addictive, but truthfully it’s a complete waste of time as most people will fade into the noise. Choose to focus on who matters. Identify your best followers using tools like Social Draft or Social Rank and laser focus your attention on them. Make them your best friends, the ones you stay in touch with after the vacation.
Ask yourself: Are you guilty of saying things like “I only have 100 followers”? If so you’re one of the lucky ones. This means you now have the opportunity to create 100 deep and meaningful relationships with people who chose to be with you. Don’t fall for quick fixes in life, take your time, be yourself and the right people will find you. Having a small following means having time to engage and keep your humanity. If your engagement is stellar your followers will grow in size and quality. Period. Your engagement is a filter that allows you to sift through the masses leaving only the best behind.
Forget What’s Familiar and Embrace the Unknown
When it comes to life and social media, there is no one formula that is “the answer.” I thought I had a pretty ideal life before I left for my trip. I owned a nice place in Austin, Texas and thought I had it all figured out. However, pushing myself to explore new lifestyles has ultimately led me to learn things I never could have imagined or even known existed.
Travel is about taking you out of whatever you consider normal and showing you that “normal” can be defined seven billion different ways.
Your social strategy is not perfect and frankly it never will be. I don’t care how many conversions that grumpy cat meme got you last week. To be truly successful you have to forge your own path. You have to push yourself to hit the restart button even and especially when you think you don’t have to. When you’re at your best you’re still not perfect, so take note of what’s working and start again.
Ask yourself: When is the last time I’ve refreshed my social strategy? What am I learning from my current strategy? How can I refine my strategy further from what I’ve learned so far?
Always Keep Perspective (Especially When Everything Goes Wrong)
I remember sitting on a park bench in Mexico reading Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way when one particular passage popped out and latched itself onto my brain forever. It’s become a personal mantra for me and it goes like this:
“We must try:
To be objective
To control emotions and keep an even keel
To choose to see the good in a situation
To steady our nerves
To ignore what disturbs or limits others
To place things in perspective
To revert to the present moment
To focus on what can be controlled”
For me, travel is 100% perspective. It’s about taking you out of whatever you consider normal and showing you that “normal” can be defined seven billion different ways on this earth. There is no one normal and there is no one right way to view or interpret a situation.
Use this mindset the next time you have to do damage control for your brand. If you have a customer complaining about your product, I want you to first calm your nerves, place things into perspective and realize where they’re coming from. Then focus on what can be controlled and analyze what you can do to reach the best possible conclusion to the situation.
At the end of the day you don’t have to travel to learn or gain new perspectives. Sometimes it can be as simple as taking a walk in a poor neighborhood you usually avoided, or writing an article for your corporate blog that challenges a popular opinion. The point is to constantly refresh your perspective and to embrace whatever life throws at you with an intention to learn.
Approach your marketing with the intention to learn no matter the outcome. Push yourself into unknown territories and focus on real lasting relationships. You’ll see results instantly both within your following and yourself.