Business engagement on Mastodon. The beginning of the post advertising era
There’s a segment of Mastodon that’s going to read this and cry out “He wants to pave paradise and put up a parking lot”. I get the sentiment, a lot of Mastodon users (including myself) are enjoying a reprieve from algorithms and advertising. I’m assuming more than a few bristle at the thought of large organizations having any role on Mastodon or in the fediverse as a whole. I get that point of view but I also understand that if Mastodon wants to expand into the mainstream the user base will have to figure out how to let organizations large and small interact within the space. Just as the pioneers of Mastodon created the cultural tapestry for early users, the next wave of mastodon users will have to consider how to shape the cultural landscape for organizations and businesses that want to interact with users on Mastodon. This is a challenge to be sure, but it’s also an unprecedented opportunity for organizations to connect with their clients, and for Mastodon users to reap the benefits of direct interaction with institutions.
A new paradigm: Customer engagement, not advertising.
With the emergence of the fediverse and all of the new doors that it opens, we have an opportunity to rethink the dynamics of how organizations communicate with their clients. With the introduction of radio and television, media profoundly changed from print to broadcast. Communication was now instantly a one to millions proposition as a opposed to the gradual one to thousands approach that had been the domain of print media. Stake holders could now blast out audio/video messaging to a wide swath of the population in hopes of engaging at least a portion of their audience. Though the reach was vastly superior to what had come before it was, and still is an inefficient system. It’s akin to throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping some will stick. With the adoption of the internet advertisers simply bolted on the old broadcast engagement mechanism to the new medium and hoped for the best. Though the methods became somewhat more sophisticated through analytics and ultimately surveillance capitalism, the end game is still the same; ground and pound messaging to a wide segment of people and hope you can get your message through. This wasn’t anything new, it was simply a heavier choke on a shotgun blast.
There is however in my opinion a better way, for both the organization and the client. At one point long ago broadcast messaging became obsolete and nobody noticed. The general population has become immune to messaging being saturated into their senses on a daily basis. More and more targeted messaging is being naturally filtered out and is increasingly less effective. So why are so many still holding on to ancient methods of broadcast messaging? That’s a great question and the answer is they simply shouldn’t be. It’s an expensive method of diminishing returns and as generations become more and more media savvy those returns are harder and harder to come by. So what’s the Alternative?
With Mastodon there’s a unique opportunity that you can’t find on any other social media. Mastodon wasn’t built as an advertising platform it was built as an unencumbered communication platform. The medium puts more power into how the user receives the message, with potent individual moderation tools and filters. In essence this forces organizations to communicate on a more bilateral basis or risk being muted by the user, or worse de-federated by instances which are an umbrella for groups of users. Why is this an opportunity? It’s an opportunity because it forces organizations to rethink their broadcast bias and develop more thoughtful and deeper communication with the client. With a group of engagement specialists organizations can potentially provide meaningful outreach to thousands if not millions of clients. It’s important to remember outreach is not advertising, outreach is answering questions, suggesting solutions and receiving feedback. Bilateral engagement is a far richer tool than simply blasting out messaging, it’s word of mouth on steroids. Active outreach can funnel people into the correct solution increasing satisfaction and retention, while feedback can give agile organizations valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t. Mastodon provides a perfect framework for this new type of communication as it regulates the behaviors of organizations, essentially preventing them from hanging themselves with anything that might potentially alienate the client. It’s post advertising customer engagement, it’s many to millions, but it’s also one to one. With the right stewardship the new medium of the fediverse can take an organization from broadcast tyrant to information shepherd.
Nuts and Bolts
Now let’s get into the meat of it, how should an organization or business properly enter the world of Mastodon? As with all things Mastodon you will get out of it exactly what you put into it. There will most definitely be an up front investment in first learning the new medium and then training the right people to represent you on that medium. The first step is to make sure you have someone at the helm that understands social media in general and then have them simply start a personal Mastodon account. Understanding the Mastodon community at large is a huge advantage when planning on how to plant your flag in the fediverse. Have your social media manager engage and get a good understanding of how to interact with the people of Mastodon and take queues from others that have gone before.
Next get your IT people on board, they need to build the ship that will sail you on the new seas. Have them plan and build a high availability platform because if things go as planned your Mastodon instance will be a major pillar in your organizational strategy.
A mastodon instance (Also commonly know as a Mastodon server) is your presence in the fediverse, it’s your island in the information stream. It will be the place that users from across the fediverse go to interact with your people and as such you need to consider everything from appearance to the domain name that will be your calling card in the fediverse. A common domain naming strategy is to use the .social TLD its somewhat akin to .com on the internet as a whole but you are certainly not bound to it. Many organizations may also opt for mstdn.organizationname.tld [mastodon.yourorganization.topleveldomain] or social.organizationname.tld, these are simply suggestions and only a few of the conventions that I’ve seen used.
Now let’s talk about the instance itself. When establishing your instance my strong suggestion is to make sure that it’s a closed instance. A closed instance is one where registrations are closed to the public. This means that only people within your organization or people authorized to represent your organization will have an account on your instance. They will however still be able to interact with any other account in the fediverse. Having a closed instance with a unique domain name will inherently verify people representing you on Mastodon and also give you a measure of control. Running your own instance allows you to effectively moderate your communication between your representatives and the clients they serve, which is vital as your organization will be held accountable by the Mastodon community at large.
Some organizations might be tempted to run a public instance alongside their closed instance to provide a forum that they hope will drive people to content, etc. I would caution against this approach as the resources needed to maintain and moderate a public instance might outweigh the benefit (If any) that it would provide. Alternatively I’d suggest organizations actively sponsor instances focused on a vertical related to your product or service. For example Pentax might want to sponsor an instance focused on photography or the Washington Post might want to sponsor an instance devoted to journalism. You don’t need to actively provide a forum for your clients but sponsoring the ones where they might congregate in is a great way to energize interest in your vertical and hopefully drive clients to your offerings.
Remember this isn’t ground and pound like broadcast advertising, this medium is about creating a relationship with your client. We’ve already explored how Mastodon can create fantastic reach multipliers (10X Twitter) in another article here. However you will not get there by simply pumping out posts promoting sale items or spamming offers. It’s a quick way to get blocked, muted or banned. Instead engage on a human level, offering true outreach to you clients. Pro-actively offer help to clients potentially struggling with an issue and then offer your solution. Instead of spamming out offers, post how your organization is positively impacting the community and instead of blasting new product bulletins actively funnel questions about the industry you’re in to your product pages. Take on tough questions and criticism and then show how your organization has responded to meet that criticism. In other words build partnerships with the people you’re here to serve.
Sharpening The Blade
It’s not all fireside chats and kumbaya. You’re also here to compete and what better way to hone your offerings than through direct feedback. Iteration has long been a key part of the tech community and iteration requires continuous and constant feedback. The quality of that feedback often determines how quickly you can get your products and ideas to market and there is no better feedback than direct and instant feedback. Mastodon is built for this kind of quality bilateral communication, meeting it head on and responding positively will drive clients to you. Screw it up and you’ll feel it sting, as we said previously this is word of mouth on steroids.
A lot of negative ink has been spilled lately by journalists and industry stalwarts who simply can’t see any possibility except for the old broadcast paradigm. A lot of journalists see follower numbers and equate that automatically to reach while other industry types simply can’t see beyond “brand building” and “influencers” . For them it’s all about capturing eyeballs, when it should be about capturing the hearts and minds of their clients. They fail to see the fantastic interpersonal reach that others have been getting within the fediverse and that lack of vision has them cloistered on old media wasting time and money, not to mention enriching the questionable morality of surveillance capitalism. As the old saying goes if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
Mastodon quite simply gets you to the client in a straight line. There are no layers of messaging or slight of hand mind games that are transparent to the consumer. You’re in the room with them and you have their ear, what more do you want? There’s no algorithm to game, no influencer to pay off, and no tech mogul silently suppressing you on a whim. You and your product or service are presented as is before your constituents, and you will know where you stand. Are you ready to serve them?
What are you waiting for?
Now is the time, not when everyone else finally catches on, as the old saying goes, we’re on the ground floor. It’s time to get in and buy cheap, and when I say buy I mean buy good will and credibility. Others with vision have seen the writing on the wall for centralized social media and are leaning into to the fediverse hard. These frontrunners are already gaining favor and valuable experience in navigating the hills and valleys of the new medium. So if you’re at the helm of an organization that puts a premium on communication maybe ask yourself, is it better get in now or catch up later?