A long time ago a very wise old man said, "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care." The ability to consistently demonstrate this type of paramount "personal" and emotional concern to others (about whatever the current issue or matter under discussion may be) is an essential ingredient in the make-up of any successful politician (or husband). We absolutely prefer sweet, "sincere" and maybe even somewhat stupid leaders (like Uncle Joe) to serene and severe smarty pants (like President O). If we know in our hearts that someone doesn't care a fig for us common folk and, basically, would just as soon not dirty their hands dealing with our pedestrian problems but instead obsess over grandiose thoughts and big dreams, then we (as voters, or as consumers) act accordingly: by withholding our approval, our support and, most importantly, our commitment.

This isn’t just true in politics. Managing emotionally-charged interactions and exchanges (where, as often as not, customers don't tell you the real problem or their actual feelings until it's too late, the connection with them is irreparably broken, or they’re long gone) is also a critical component of how you run your business in this new world of "social" everything, where everything's a two-way conversation and everyone gets a vote whether they like something or not.

The context may have evolved, but the fundamental idea of demonstrating your interest and concern to your intended targets hasn't changed much. The basic objective is to figure out how to make me care and then how to make me share. I'm happy to spread and even amplify your message (as long as it relates to and resonates with me, and is delivered at the right time, place, and context) by sharing it with my friends and throughout my network--as long as I actually believe that the message, the concern, and the process are all authentic.

So how do you get it right? Sadly, today there are about a million people full of suggestions, systems, tools, tips and tricks of the trade for making this whole social thing happen for you. Social media consultants are definitely a growth industry, one in which there don't appear to be any required credentials (although being the biggest blowhard on your block is a definite benefit, and being a diva in your own mind doesn't hurt either). It also helps to be in your early 20s, just as it does in Hollywood, where a bunch of equally ill-equipped and uninformed folks are running businesses while they keep looking over their shoulders hoping that no one will figure out that they have no idea what they're doing.

There is also a growing number of morons and scam artists who think that you can "Fake it 'til you make it" in the social media business. I'd say they're having roughly the same degree of success as the guys who thought that the makers of Preparation H should also make a lip balm. I wrote about these bozos a while ago. Sadly things have only gotten worse, with pseudo-experts on "virality" being all the rage today. There's a reason why no one gets anywhere when the blind lead the blind.

I'm not sure that anyone has all the answers (or that the best answers won’t change again by next week), but there are three basic ideas that you should keep in mind as you develop your own social media plans.

Less Messaging Has More Impact. Just because you can do certain things doesn't mean you should. High on the do-not list is inundating your intended targets with tons of repetitive email, interruptive and inconsequential texts, run-of-the-mill offers, mixed and confusing messages, etc. These tactics are doubly destructive. First, by burying your important communications in a pile of non-stop crap, you lose any prospect of commanding the attention of your targets. (You also run the risk that your channel may be shut down entirely, either by the end-user or by the email guardians in the sky.) Second, by bundling the important with the mundane and mediocre you cheapen the entire set of messages and make it easier to dismiss your whole effort. There's a reason that people hate bulk mail and it's not just about its weight and crappy production values.If you're respectful of my time and interests (and, while you're at it, at least semi-polite), I'll be happy to help you get the word out.

Give Me Ammo, Not Ads Information-sharing is a contact sport, and a highly competitive one. People, especially those who regard themselves as major influencers in any area, don't just want to know what's going on: They want to be the first to know. But they're not looking for recycled run-of-the-mill chatter that "Access Hollywood" or Tech Week already covered. They want the straight goods, the good stuff that will position them as knowledgeable and in the thick of things. So you need to develop real facts and substantive information that will stand up to scrutiny, and then you need to get it out to your advocates and net promoters as soon as possible--before it becomes yesterday's news. The bulk of active social sharing now takes place in a matter of hours; if you miss the first wave your message will get lost in the froth.

You Can’t Push a Rope (And You Won’t Have To) Save your breath and your money. If you have the right message and a great story then you don't have to sell anyone on selling it for you. The influencers you want to reach are like the scorpion that rode across the river on the frog's back and then stung him anyway. When the frog asked why (after the scorpion had insisted that he would never do any such thing), the scorpion replied, "It's my nature." The plain fact is that you don't have to chase or push these folks--just like the scorpion, they also can't help themselves. It's their nature to share and push stories out there, for fear that if they don’t they'll no longer be relevant. So don't sweat the distribution part of the program until you've created a rock-solid and valuable story: then let it fly. Sometimes the best way to push is to take a step back and watch things happen from the sidelines. Never let 'em see you sweat.

Published on: Oct 21, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.