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How To Start a Riot With Social Media

How to start a social media riot

Admit it, you’ve wondered.

How do I take my audience and turn them into fanatics? How do I get people so excited about my brand that they forget to eat?

Perhaps you’ve seen the hordes of slavering fans that Steve Jobs attracted.

Maybe you’re desperate to follow Seth Godin’s advice and lead your own tribe.

In every country, every era, and every subject, there have always been people who could whip their followers into a frenzy…

All they had to do was open their mouths or commit their pens to paper, and the world was putty in their hands.

What was their secret? Attention… and knowing what to do with it.

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The 4 stages of a social media riot

What makes social media such a potent tool for internet marketers is the opportunity to build an audience.

And building an audience is simply a matter of getting – and holding – attention.

But you probably knew that.

What you might not have known, is that simply having the attention of an audience isn’t enough – you have to use it.

Paying attention to something is passive. It doesn’t require any thought; you’re not expected to do anything. You can just sit, watch, and enjoy.

This is useless for our purposes.

We want to make a scene, shake things up, disturb the status quo – We want to people spread the word.

So just like a ringleader trying to stir up a riot, we have to do more than simply entertain. We have to inspire.

There are four stages that have made up nearly every riot in history. By closely mirroring these patterns with your social strategy, you’ll be well on the way to starting a riot of your own – In a good way, of course.

1. Find the frustrated few

A riot requires a certain level of outrage to get started that most people simply don’t have – Your job is to find the people who do.

When you’re first building your audience, it doesn’t matter if it’s large. It only matters that they’re highly engaged; that you’re solving a problem sufficiently dear to them that they’ll sing your praises to their friends, family and colleagues.

So how do you do that? Be ruthlessly specific about the problem you’re solving and the audience you’re targeting. You’ll certainly miss out on some casual followers this way, but you’ll pick up the kinds of people that make things happen.

Gary Vaynerchuk’s winelibrary.tv is a great example – it demystified the formerly elitist world of wine for the would-be enthusiast.

Gary realised that many people had no idea which wine they should buy. To solve this, he created a wonderful resource for those of us who don’t know our Chardonnays from our Chablis.

He wasn’t interested in just anybody that bought wine. Sure, he’d sell wine to anyone who wanted it, but winelibrary.tv was only interested in the frustrated few who were sick of the pompous twaddle spouted by self-important wine ‘experts’.

And Gary went down a storm on social media – people really appreciated his expertise, and he even started using the show to answer questions he received via Facebook. What started as a small, hardcore following, quickly grew into a full scale riot.

If you want to start a riot, you’re going to have to find out where your frustrated few are hiding. Thankfully, that’s never been easier – Twitter conversations, LinkedIn groups and Facebook fan pages are great places to find out what’s frustrating your desired audience.

And don’t just observe the conversations – join in. If you want people to join your audience, you’re going to need to show them that you’re worth following.

Follow some key influencers, connect with people that are discussing relevant topics – above all, start to provide value straight away. If people like what you have to say, they’ll sign up for more.

If you already have a following for your blog or website, go ahead and promote your social media outlets there.

But whatever you do, make sure you’re up-front about what your followers can expect. You can’t start a riot with a gaggle of also-rans – You need to build a hard core of followers.

2. Provide a common enemy

When you’re addressing your audience, it makes sense to include them in your ‘special group’. Consider all the products that are pitched at ‘Smart People’, or the ‘Fashion Conscious’ – Making your readers feel good about themselves is an excellent way to get them on side.

But if you want to start a riot, you need more than that. You need a common enemy.

Coke vs. Pepsi, Mac vs. PC, Ford vs. GM

These kinds of rivalries produce fans.

Now that’s an overused word these days, but think about the real meaning. A brand fanatic. Does that sound appealing to you?

And an enemy doesn’t have to be a specific product or company. It could be the Government, conventional wisdom, or an alternative school of thought. Many dietary movements inspire avid fans who will walk through fire to argue the virtues of, say, Paleo over Veganism.

Paleo vs. Veganism, you might think, that seems oddly specific.

Well, there’s a reason for that.

If you’re familiar with Mark Sisson from MarksDailyApple, you’re probably also aware of his stance on Veganism.

Mark has specifically and repeatedly attacked the Vegan diet, as well as its promoters. He’s even prompted impassioned responses from members of the Vegan community.

And you’d think that this was bad form for someone looking to gain more support for his movement – an almost literal tribe in this case, since it’s known as the Primal Blueprint.

You’d think that people would see this as distasteful, or just plain rude.

But that’s not how it goes at all. In fact, Mark’s followers love it – they take to social media in force to promote the Primal Blueprint to their friends and followers. Vegans – followers of people like Dr. John McDougall – do exactly the same for their camp.

And Mark continues his tirade against Veganism on social media.

How to Start a Social Media Riot

Mark’s blog posts, tweets and Facebook updates that are targeted at Vegans are consistently popular. It’s ‘Us vs. Them’ at its best, and his fans love it.

Identify a common enemy for your followers, and they’ll fight for you to the bitter end.

3. Light the touch paper

A riot is a visceral, impassioned event.

Intelligent, logical people commit acts that they’d never consider under normal circumstances.

Why? Because riots aren’t started by rational thinking. They’re started by emotions.

If you want to transform your audience into fans, you’ll have to touch them on an emotional level. That means not bragging about the specs of your latest widget, or offering ‘great prices’.

If you want to start your very own riot with social media, you’re going to have to show your audience how you can change their lives – and do so in a way that inspires them.

One part of the formula won’t do – You need both.

Take Steve Kamb over at Nerd Fitness. In essence, he’s running a health and fitness blog.

But he’s made it so much more than that. Steve understands his audience, and he’s put a huge amount of effort into inspiring them. With posts like his Rules of the Rebellion and Real Life Role Playing, Steve takes something that his audience find arduous, and makes it fun and exciting.

He enriches the lives of his rebel audience, and you only have to check out the success stories to see the truth of that.

And, of course, the fun continues on Twitter. Steve takes genuine pleasure from the success of his rebels, and it shows.

How to Start a Social Media Riot

Steve has both parts of the formula covered: He’s actively improving the lives of his followers, and he’s tapping into something that his followers have an existing emotional attachment to.

Of course, you don’t have to be a rebel leader to start a riot… but it helps!

But there’s a third element to setting things in motion – The single act that starts the riot.

Throwing the first stone, taking the shot, giving the speech… This is the act that turns our frustrated few into a full-scale riot.

Once you’ve assembled your supporters via social media and provided them with a common cause, you have to take the plunge. Ask them to do something.

You could ask them to spread the word, or to buy your latest product. You could ask them to share your content or enter your competition.

You’ve probably noticed that large companies do this a lot. Coke, for example, are constantly running competitions via their Twitter feed.

But you rarely see large companies that really engage with their audience, and it’s usually because they’ve neglected the first part of the formula – they ask their audience to enter competitions or engage in conversations, but they haven’t really tapped into their audience’s emotions.

Perhaps their audience likes their company or their products, but they don’t have a passion for it. There’s no fire in their belly.

Enter Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD.

Kelly kicked off MobilityWOD with a 365 day video project – each day he’d release a video that helped athletes and coaches to tackle mobility issues without the need for specialist knowledge.

You’ll notice from his Twitter and Facebook pages that he’s built up a very large, very loyal following.

And if you take some time to look through his updates, you’ll find that he’s constantly engaging his audience – He asks questions, runs competitions and announces meet-ups at events that he’s attending.

His engagement with the MobilityWOD audience has hugely increased his following – almost entirely by word of mouth. It’s even lead him to design and release new products to solve some of the problems people have contacted him about.

MobilityWOD is a superb example of what you can achieve by capturing and using the attention of a devoted audience. Kelly started from scratch, and so can you.

So go ahead and ask your audience to take action.

You’ve laid the kindling; don’t be afraid to strike the match.

4. Add fuel to the fire

Once a riot starts, it quickly spreads. Modern media actually helps this process by telling the world where the riot is happening. This tends to result in more people joining in.

Even before modern media, though, word of riots would spread fast. For one thing, riots are loud – they attract a lot of attention.

Media coverage for your movement is a lofty aim – and very worthwhile – but not something you should seek directly. If you make enough waves, you’ll get all the coverage you could ever want.

What you should do, though, is try to expand your audience. To do this, you’ll want to convince other influencers in similar areas to spread your message to their audiences. This is something else that social media is great for, as influencers have never before been so easy to reach.

By building relationships with other experts, you’ll have the opportunity to ‘borrow’ their audiences. Simply ask them to share your most popular posts or content – If you’ve built a good relationship with someone, you probably won’t even have to ask. They’ll just do it.

Of course, what goes around comes around, and building relationships goes both ways. You can’t expect people to help you out if you consistently look the other way when they ask for your help. Bear that in mind when you’re going about your business.

Brian Clark of Copyblogger Media often shares content from other experts on his Google+ page. And, of course, Brian enjoys the benefits of having his own content shared by other influencers in the Content Marketing space.

He’s also written before on the benefits of growing your offline authority. How do you do that? By building relationships.

It’s not until you’ve got your movement off the ground that you can really benefit from the relationships you’ve forged. With that said, by all means start building relationships straight away – By the time your movement is picking up speed, you’ll be ready to reap the benefits.

What are you waiting for?

To be clear, this is not a post about getting a little attention with social media. It’s about starting a riot.

If you want to build something truly special… To look on as fans flock to your banner… you can’t take half measures.

You have to stir up your fans and force them to take action.

You have to tear down the old world, and replace it with something better.

So go ahead and throw the first stone.

Your riot is waiting to start.

Guest Author: Pete Hugh helps tech companies attract more clients & grow their business. Signup here to receive a FREE copy of his upcoming e-book ‘B2B Content Marketing 101: Becoming Your Customer’s Trusted Advisor’


It’s easier than you think!


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