Five reasons why social media is like … tennis

Due to popular demand, I’m revisiting this series of blog posts about social media.

Throw me a challenge – what do you think social media is like?  I’ll try and come up with five reasons why social media reflects it.

First up – tennis …

Social media has been called many things … the most useful tool in 21st century communication … a complete waste of time … and many, many other things in between.  These are often reactions based on experience that generate a response which is either proactive or defensive, again based on experience.

These labels don’t actually teach us anything about using social media beyond being a research tool into why people like or dislike it.

This is the first of a series of posts that will call social media different things.  What can we learn about how we use social media tools by comparing to say … a game of tennis?

Five reasons why social media is like … tennis

We could learn a lot from tennis when it comes to how we approach social media.   Why is social media like tennis?

1. Because you need to hit the ball back.

If you were to approach a tennis match like some corporates approach social media, you’d only hit the occasional ball because you felt like it.  Or  because you wanted to.  Or because you had the time.  Or you’d stop the match and ask the person to stop serving balls that were too difficult or not served in the way you’d prefer.

Social media is no different to hitting the ball back in tennis.  Whatever is served up to you, you need to work with whatever’s in front of you and return it.  Sometimes it’s with a response, sometimes it’s with a question, sometimes it’s to clarify a point that has been made.  But whichever you choose, you have to keep the ball in play.

2. Because sometimes you serve and sometimes you receive.

This one’s easy to understand.  In tennis, sometimes you serve.  Sometimes your opponent does.  When you’re serving, you control the rally and the game.  When you’re receiving, you need to respond because your opponent starts the point off in the way they want to.

One mistake corporates make a lot is the thought that social media is a broadcast platform which only accepts messages they want to send out.  It’s not like that.  Sometimes it’s you putting messages in the space.  At other times it’s someone else who starts things off.  Message to corporates: THAT’S OKAY.

With social media, we need to respond to conversations started by others because they’re still legitimate converstations, in many cases.  We can’t just ignore them.

3. Because it requires energy that is needed until the final point in the match or tournament.

Start a game of tennis like you’re only playing one point and your energy will be gone by the time you need to play out a third set.  You need to pace yourself according to the whole timeframe of the game.

Social media is no different.  If you’re running a program that lasts for a year, you need to keep up your energy across the whole program, not just start with a flurry of tweets or posts which gradually peters out into nothing.

4. Because there is a range of shots.

In tennis, not every shot is the same.  Shots are played from both sides of the body.  There are different spins you can apply.  There is different power you can use.

If you played tennis with only one shot – which you played because you liked it and you were good at it – then you would lose very quickly.  Your opponent would work out you’re a one-trick pony.

In social media, some consumers work out that governments, corporates or even non-profits are one-trick ponies too.  They have one style of communication which they rely on because they’re comfortable with it.  But different conversations require different approaches and styles.

If you are stuck with the same style of communication, do what tennis players do if they don’t have enough shots.  Realise it and then hit the practice court.

5. Because there are a range of surfaces.

In tennis, you could be playing on grass, hardcourt, clay or carpet.  Each surface requires a different game style, approach, range of shots and level of fitness.  The best players change according to the surface they’re playing on.

In social media, you can’t approach Twitter like it’s Facebook.  You can’t even approach YouTube like it’s TV advertising.  These platforms are different ‘surfaces’ which require a different approach, which takes advantage of the benefits of that particular platform.

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