The Wire, one of the most influential, edgy shows ever presented on television (and the President’s favorite), has a lot to teach its viewers about America’s broken institutions, the drug war, corruption, and the trials of inner city life. The show’s characters often liken their personal lives and street personas to “a game” in which the players are held captive to fate, though they’re still compelled to fight against it. Incidentally, The Wire (whose main characters are all businessmen of their own sort, don’t forget) shares a lot of wisdom about how businesses can make a killer Web 2.0 strategy — if they’re ready to fight. Without further ado, here’s social media according to The Wire:
Don’t Ignore Trends
The game is out there — and it’s either play, or be played. That simple. – Omar
The truth is that whether or not you choose to play the “game” of social media, it’s out there, thriving and developing, and businesses ignore this point at their own peril. Half-hearted attempts at fan pages or poorly updated twitter pages won’t do your brand any good, so once you choose to engage, engage fully, and smartly.
And if you’re a small business, don’t worry about losing to the bigwigs — in fact, you can use your smallness to your advantage by increasing the amount of personalized contact you can have with users online. In episode three of the first season, D’Angelo tries to teach Brodie how to play chess:
D’Angelo Barksdale: Nah, yo, it ain’t like that. Look, the pawns, man, in the game, they get capped quick. They be out the game early.
Preston Broadus: Unless they some smart-a** pawns.
If you’re a smart pawn, you’ll get ahead. Just make sure you play to the fullest extent of your ability.
Push Into Your Competitors Territory. Pick Fights With The Big Guys
[Spoiler Alert - beware if you haven't watched through Season 5]
Proposition Joe: I treated you like a son.
Marlo: I wasn’t made to play the son.
Marlo, perhaps the most ruthless drug trader of them all, is a no-holds-barred type of businessman — he edges out his competitors (whether they be friends, mentors, or enemies) when and if he can get to the top. He arranges for Proposition Joe to be killed after skillfully soliciting advice from him on money laundering, among other things, and through his dealings acquires control of West Baltimore’s entire drug trade.
Marlo started off small, but maintained his laser focus and began to skillfully overtake multiple drug “corners” because he wasn’t afraid to a) recruit extra muscle and b) attack the big guys. Your social media strategy should mirror this. Keep a watchful eye on your competitors’ blogs and networks. Track their keywords in searches. See what kind of conversations they’re having with their customers. Look for an opening, and attack — by which we mean, find a flaw in their customer service policy and exploit it (write a blog about it, for example.) Lure in their customers by offering special Twitter- or Facebook-only sales or deals that directly compete with theirs. Counter any sloppy statistics or hastily-written studies they may quote in the social media networking sphere.
Be better, be ruthless, and you’ll sustain your corners — just like Marlo.
Be A Businessman (or Woman) First
Business. Always business. – The Greek
The Greek is a human trafficker, narcotics mover, and the head of an international crime syndicate. In the episode “Port in a Storm,” after narrowly escaping the cops, The Greek boards a plane. When a customs employee asks him, “Business or Pleasure?” He responds with “Business. Always Business.” The Greek maintains that business always comes first, which is why he’s so successful in the first place — there’s no time for play in a world that rewards and prioritizes ruthlessness, after all. This sentiment is echoed by many of the show’s “kingpin” characters and the more streetwise among the cast, as in “Time After Time,” where Stringer tells his crew to worry about selling and making profit before engaging in secondary “gangsta” activities.
So how does this translate to social media marketing? Easy. Like Stringer, remember that you are a businessperson first and always when making your contacts — you’re just changing your strategy to fit the medium. Promoting your brand through social media is as much as a profitable business venture as other, more traditional means of marketing — and its slightly more casual, youthful atmosphere does not mean that sloppiness (as in, misspelled copy) becomes permissible. So be friendly, and be interactive, sure, but don’t forget that you represent a brand, first.
Stand By Your Brand
You play it hard, you play it tight, and you make sure [people] know you gon’ stand by your people. – D’Angelo
In the world of The Wire, loyalty is paramount. Snitches get shot (or worse), and the ones that stay alive the longest are usually the best secret-keepers. So what does this have to do with social media?
Your customers need to know that they come first — no matter what. Customer loyalty entails listening earnestly to their concerns (and handling them responsibly and efficiently), and encouraging feedback. This is primarily what social media is for: to ‘hear’ your customers, in real time. Allow them to use Twitter and Facebook to express their problems, and show everyone else how good you are at dealing with them. Remember: In social media, conversation is King, but problem-solving falls under that designation, too — so don’t forget it.
You gotta be fierce, I know that, but more than that, you gotta show some flex, give and take on both sides. – Stringer Bell
In the episode “Stray Rounds,” a gunfight ensues after a territorial gang battle in the city, disrupting the drug “business” of the intelligent, financially-minded Stringer Bell. Bell tells Bodie, an underling rising through the ranks, that he must use more tact and intelligence when dealing in business. But most importantly? He must be flexible and adapt to different situations.
The only constant in social media is that it’s always changing. Social media managers must be willing to read up on industry news (try mashable.com, for starters) and try new platforms when they look promising. Twitter updates its platform? Then so does your business. Facebook trades its old interface for yet another one? Then so does your business. A new social media venture comes along and trumps both of them? Then so be it — you start using that platform. It might be cumbersome or sometimes downright annoying to constantly keep up with the changes, but you will most certainly be left behind if you don’t try.
Stick To What You Know or Go With Your Gut
“Just a gangster, I suppose.” – Avon Barksdale
If all else fails, use your intuition. All of the google-analyticking, traffic monitoring, and round-the-clock promoting in the world won’t help your business if you can’t relate to your audience.
When Stringer tries to dissuade Avon from worry over territorial matters, Avon retorts that he “ain’t a suit-wearin’ businessman” yet still wants his “corners.” The series sets up a paradigm-clash between Stringer’s businesslike, no-nonsense sort of view and Avon’s more streetwise mentality (Machiavellian in its own right, but a bit rougher around the edges.) Avon never forgets where he comes from, and neither should you.
Imagine yourself as the person on the other side of the social media networking barrier. What would you want to hear? Who are you loyal to? What are your concerns? Yes, you’re a businessperson first, but you’re human, and professionalism doesn’t equal inhumanity. Step outside of your box, get out there, and relate to people — let them know your feelings and your worries, too. Tweet links you find interesting that aren’t necessarily brand-related. Have a conversation with a random follower. It might lead somewhere great, and it might even make your strategy more inventive over time. Business is business, but sometimes you need to work your “corners” — in this case, your social networks — like you know the place and its people well. Take off your suit and have a beer on the porch by the corner store, you know? Own it.
So, there you have it — social media as explains by the rough n’ tumble folk from The Wire. Now get out there and play your game, and remember: “If you come after the King, you best not miss.”