Are You Obsessed with the Social Small Stuff?

By Stanford Smith, Contributing {grow} Columnist

I get asked a lot of questions about blogging and social media.  These questions range from the profound; “Does social media really matter?” to the absurd “How many words should I use in every blog post sentence?”

Ninety-nine percent of the time, I enthusiastically answer these questions. I remember when I started blogging and content marketing and how worried I was about making a mistake. Answering questions is my way of saving people unnecessary frustration.

Lately, however, I have noticed a troubling theme in the questions.

More and more people are sweating the small stuff.

Usually thoughtful and cool-headed people are investing hours pondering…

  • How many times a month should I post?
  • Should I answer every comment?
  • How many words are in a successful post?
  • How long should a headline be?
  • How many keywords should be included in the first paragraph?

These questions are the subject of tweetchats and even have enough gravitas to carry a full 60 minute webinar.

This is absurd.

Take a step back and you can see the hazy influence of the “get rich quick” mentality.  Without knowing it, these well-meaning folks are looking for a “silver bullet” that will instantly solve their problems.  Others are hoping that the right combination of post frequency, length, and headline type will instantly turn them into content rockstars.

These questions, while interesting, are ultimately meaningless unless you’ve tackled the “big stuff”

The Big Stuff: The Real Questions You Should Be Asking

The Big Stuff are foundational  questions that are difficult to answer in a five-minute conversation  These questions always focus on values, culture, objectives, and accountability.  They make people and organizations uncomfortable and may lead to a few arguments.

But the Big Stuff always underpins success. Answering the big questions protects you and your organization against wasted time, effort, and burnout.

Unlike the “small stuff” the big questions defy easy, quantifiable, silver bullets. Instead, you need to arm yourself with time, focus, and a healthy respect for trial and error.

Here are several of the big social media questions that organizations should start with:

How can our customers benefit from a two-way dialogue with our business?

Not all customers want a relationship!  Quarter-inch screw customers just want a cheap and reliable fastener.  They don’t care about your Facebook page or if you are active on Twitter.  On the other hand, the jogging stroller manufacturer absolutely needs to talk with moms and dads.

What can we share that is relevant, interesting, and valuable?

Start with your content.  Look at the brochures, briefs, white papers, and internal documentation that are floating around your organization.  Once you’ve gathered everything, ask yourself: “Do you have enough to keep a customer interested for a year?”  If you do, then release this content on a regular schedule and make sure you maintain quality.  If not, create a plan to start building your library of content.

You can’t answer the “post frequency” question until you know what you have to publish.

Do we have the right process for mining content from our organization?

Creating content is a discipline and skill that must be cultivated and nurtured.  Content producers are natural hunter-gatherers that see the world as “another blog post.”  Social organizations build clear processes for encouraging grassroots content creation and inspiration.

Are these processes in place in your organization?

Have we set up the right incentives to empower and reward employees for their social contribution?

Simply asking employees to write blog posts is the wrong way to build social competency in your organization.  You’ll get sporadic “compliance” at best.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Fortune 500 company or a two-person local business, you need to offer an incentive for someone to change their behavior and invest 100%.

Social Media is inherently creative and spontaneous and can’t be packaged in an 8-hour work day.  Blog post ideas sprout at 9PM while picking up apple Juice at Walgreens. A Pinterest picture happens at an impromptu company event.  Employees forced to “be social” won’t catch and capitalize on these moments.

What does success look like?

I’ll make it easy for you.  Successful social media creates and rewards delighted customers.  That’s all.  You can set-up your analytic tools to churn out the metrics as proof but readers, Likes, and retweets should ultimately lead to more customers.

Everyone who is interested in finding and delighting customers should participate in answering these “big questions”.  That means everyone from the front-desk, the delivery person, the marketing team, customer service, and the CEO.

Wait – Aren’t Those “Small Stuff Questions Important?


Answering the Big Stuff, those important questions we discussed, will make the other questions irrelevant.  Once you thought about your content, the value you can deliver, and your customer’s needs all you need to do is publish.  It doesn’t really matter how much or how often.  Just publish valuable information your customers can use. They will appreciate and compensate you. Simple.

Make sense?

Talk to me.


Contributing Columnist Stanford Smith obsesses about how to get passionate people’s blogs noticed and promoted at Pushing Social, except when he’s chasing large mouth bass!


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  • I never cease to be amazed by the number of people who get bogged down with the HOW without ever looking at the WHY. Why are you doing what you are doing? 
    The HOW leads them to publishing mediocre, and sometimes, worthless content regularly! 
    There really are no rules in place and no one size fits all solution. As you said, figure out the big stuff and then the small stuff will become more obvious. SPOT ON!

  • As @facebook-512878894:disqus pointed out, the “why” is the first thing that needs to be answered. That being said, I think the details do make a lot of difference. 

    Look at Derek Halpern and his Social Triggers blog. He talks a whole lot about the details, to the point where he described “the perfect blog post structure” in one of his webinars. Does “the perfect” structure really exist? I doubt it. But the way he explained it did make a lot of sense. 

    That being said, he writes great, compelling content that would still be great even if the structure was a few sentences off here and there :). And he has based his blog’s brand around psychology, so he has to get into the details. 

    I think it becomes a case of marginal goal optimization. Great content gets you the biggest results. Then focusing on the details will help optimize it so you can squeeze the most out of it. 

  • The last question is the best and in my Humble opinion the Most important of all.
    “What does success look like?”

    If you haven’t answered this question then nothing else will make sense and truly nothing else will work for you… You’ll constantly be trying to chase your tail for success…

    Great article Stanford!!

  • Standford, good stuff as always. Ideally, answering the “small stuff” questions let’s people focus on the big stuff, but too often that clearly isn’t the case.

    Now time to go tackle some Big Questions.

  • Yup, clients get caught up in the small things too many times.

  • Content is King; always was and always will be. Whether it is Print, TV, Social, or Sandwich Boards relevant and compelling content will always force engagement. Use “where,” “when,” “would” and “should” and avoid using “Why.” It has both the lowest like and comment rates and may be seen as intrusive and/or challenging.

  • I agree.  The How is easy to get your head around but it ultimately has negligible value since things are changing so quickly.  Focusing on the why lays the foundation for a better program.

  • Be careful here D.  “Why” works well for a lot of content marketers.  Why is especially potent in industries with hypercompetition.  Where, When, Would, Should are great once ta person puts you on the short list.  Know what I mean?

  • Yep, unfortunately the social paparrazi reinforces this bad habit.

  • True.  What’s up Eric?

  • Thanks Ryan.  You are right – I should have led with that question!

  • Agree.  Derek kicks out some extremely useful stuff.  
    Here’s the thing.  I have a problem with formulas and unsubstantiated hyperbole.  Since I spend 40 hours a week dealing with serious corporate types, I’ve learned to consider everything with a critical eye. 
    The details will never save a badly considered program.  I’m sure Derek would agree that you can get turn dog crap into good content by putting it in a particular order.  The “perfect post” only amplifies a program that is already solid.

  • Ahhh, silver bullets and unicorns. People will never stop looking for them, will they? 

    The reason people ask the questions about the small tactical things because it’s easier than focusing on the big stuff. It all comes back to strategy. You have to figure out the WHY behind your efforts before you can worry about the HOW. 
    Great post, my friend!

  • Fantastic post Stanford. Reminds me of the book title, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” 😉

    I like to equate focusing on these small, ultimately unimportant details to driving a car while only using the rear-view mirror to see where you are going. Sure you’re driving, but you’re missing the big and more important picture (all the stuff you can see out of the much bigger and more critical windshield). And you’re going to bump into a lot of things and not get very far while complaining the car doesn’t do its job.

    Focus on what matters … thanks for the reminder and wisdom!

  • “Not all customers want a relationship.” Word. There are times I just want the deal or the answer or the solution to my problem – no bells, whistles, hoops of fire. Learn about your audience, what they want, need. Knowing what kind content your customers will value – that’s key and it absolutely can come from anyone – esp. those on the front line. Trusting the front-desk to deal with customers face-to-face everyday but not with a tweet or blog/FB reply? That seems absurd to me. 
    Always been a firm believer of it’s not so much when you post, how often – but what you have to say, quality over quantity or frequency. Shared a post the other day – mentioned a few important questions but didn’t ask the Big Two: WHY (h/t @facebook-512878894:disqus) and WHO (the readers, the audience, the customers). You’re so right – if you start by asking and answering the right questions, the ‘little’ things do tend to take care of themselves. FWIW. 

  • I remember Neil Patel mentioned in his QuickSprout blog that he does write for his readers, not for search engines. I think it also applies here. So I guess, first and foremost, think of “why are you doing what you are doing”, just like Ameena mentioned, and those likes and shares will just follow.

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  • absolutely!
    I agree with using Why to open dialogue, but to continue the conversation the other words will help nicely. Always great info from you sir!!

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