As I was feeding my beautiful cherub daughter at a bright and chipper 4:45 a.m., I spent some time browsing Facebook on my iphone through half-open eyes – as I often do in an effort not to give up and crash back into my pillows, letting my three month old fend for herself in that treacherous drop to the floor.  (NOTE:  I have not dropped my daughter in a sleep stupor.  Yet.)

I started looking at “Fourth of July” posts done by brands I have “liked” on Facebook for a variety of reasons: 1. I actually like them.  2. Someone guilted me into liking them. 3. They’re prospects that I have liked to see what their social media strategy is so I can point out the flaws.  4. I’ve accidentally hit the wrong button and “liked” them and have been too lazy to go back and remove them in my settings.

What struck me is how many times I saw, “What are your plans for this Fourth of July?” – and how many non-responses there were to that question.  Now, granted, that may have been because the post auto-populated over night and most (sane) people weren’t up checking Facebook and commenting at 4:45 a.m.  Or, it may have simply been that the question is BORING.

If the goal of brands using social media is to engage with their customers, I think they should be asking far more creative questions than that.  Know why?  NO ONE CARES what you’re plans are for the Fourth of July.  (“I’m going to make a pineapple cheese thing and go to my sister-in-law’s, where I’ll drink too much and debate with the conservative grandmother about gay rights.  I’ll end the day taking photos of my svelte husband swimming with my daughter because I shudder to think of my post-pregnancy fat rolls going anywhere near a swimsuit.” <Yawn>.)

If brands really want to get some responses from customers, they need to ask questions with humor (if that fits the brand).  For instance, “If a zombie outbreak occurs in the mass of people around you watching fireworks tonight, what handy weapon* would you use to defend yourself and your family? *Note: this has to be something that would naturally be found in the park or in your picnic basket – you probably don’t take an Uzi with you to watch fireworks.”  In fact, as a test, I’m going to post that to Facebook and see what kind of response I get.

I’m back.

Perhaps posing a moral dilemma is more in line with your brand.  “You have an infant daughter and the zombie apocalypse is knocking on your door.  What do you do?”  This is a question I wrestle with constantly.  Would I sacrifice my child, a la “Sophie’s Choice”, in order to make my own selfish escape?  I couldn’t realistically sacrifice myself for her to escape, as she can’t walk, let alone run, and likely wouldn’t realize the magnitude of what’s happening.  So, what?  Flip her into the Baby Bjorn, stick a pacifier in her mouth, grab a shotgun and run like the devil?  And what about the pets?  WHAT ABOUT THE PETS?!?

See how much more engaging that is?  It gets your customers thinking and – if they respond – they really have something to say.  And their answers will be much more intriguing than “Eating BBQ Potato Chips and watching ‘Independence Day’.  That Will Smith doesn’t take any crap from those aliens! Lololol!”  (That comment is not ‘lololol’ worthy.  Frankly, no comment is ‘lololol’ worthy.)

So, you say, zombies just “aren’t your thing” – they don’t fit with the brand guidelines and you could get in trouble.  Okay.  Then, for the love, think of something other than “Take a picture of you with our gas station on Instagram and we’ll post it on our Facebook page!”…  Well, I have always wanted a picture of myself with a gas station…  And having that picture posted to said gas stations Facebook page would be realizing one of my lifelong dreams…

No.  No, it wouldn’t.  That does nothing for me other than make me roll my eyes and mock you.

Find something that resonates with your audience – something they’re passionate about.  Is your brand nostalgic?  Ask for favorite Fourth of July memories of your customers from days gone by.  (Mine?  Eating watermelon on my Grandpa’s porch and spitting seeds in his front yard while watching the fireworks go off in Sooner Park, convinced that next year we’d have a whole watermelon patch in his front yard to play in.)  Is your brand music oriented?  What song triggers strong Fourth of July memories of a certain time in your life?  (Mine?  Aimee Mann’s “4th of July”.  College.  Senior Year.  Lot’s of heartache and fears about cutting ties and going off into the world.  Listening to it now brings back a familiar pit in my stomach.)

Pet lovers?  What tips do your customers have for keeping pets safe and calm while those pesky fireworks go off?  Gas station? Ask what your customers ‘fuel up’ on for a day of fun, and give them a list of common things not to forget – ice, bottled water, beer, propane.  Nothing sucks more than getting to a campsite and having to trek back to town for supplies.

I am not a social marketing expert, but I feel compelled to make this plea to marketers learning how best to use this platform.  It seems it’s understood that social media shouldn’t be used to “hard sell”, but rather to have a conversation with customers.  But, by and large, those conversations suck.  Give your customers something to talk about.  Make them laugh.  Make them cry.  Make them think.  But, for the love of god, don’t make them yawn.  If you bore them, you lose them.

I’m up to about six comments on my Facebook post in ten minutes, but I have to bail to go make the pineapple cheese thing and mentally prep for today’s festivities.  Have a safe and happy Fourth!  And don’t forget to pack something that can be used as a weapon if the unthinkable should happen tonight…

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