Why were my days at HMV like social media?

When I graduated back in 2004, I took a job in the local HMV so that I could continue living in London.  Back then, HMV still held a considerable amount of subcultural capital: it was a great music shop that stocked great swathes of albums rather than simply selling piles of £3 DVDs as it does today.

For my interview, I had to sit down and discuss my musical, film and gaming passions, before taking a mini exam that asked questions on everything from The Beatles to Alfred Hitchcock.  As you can clearly see, HMV invested in its people: it wanted its workforce to be knowledgeable, passionate advocates who could talk authoritatively to customers about the entertainment world.

When working on the shop floor or behind the till, I would enjoy chatting to customers about their purchases and suggesting similar albums or films that I thought they would like.  One of the best things in that job (apart from great colleagues and a heft discount!) was when a customer would come in and thank you personally for the recommendation you had made for them, because they enjoyed it so much.

These customers would often become familiar with me – we’d chat about their plans for the weekend, what they were up to and always take the conversation back to shared musical and cinematic passions.

So how does this come back to social media?

Well, a great many people are continuing to peddle tired marketing messages out through dynamic new social media channels.  A great many people believe that talking about your brands is the only thing you should be talking about on your social media channels.  And in my humble opinion, this is wrong.

Take the following quote from an excellent AdAge article this week:

“As it turns out, many people in social networks don’t want to talk about your product, they just want to talk.”

Social media is fundamentally about building relationships with customers – plain and simple.  Just like old-school HMV staff, marketers should be tapping into customers’ passions, talking to them about their lives and making themselves relevant.

The entire ethos of social media is in its name – ‘social’.  If people wanted to listen to you go on and on incessantly about your products, they’d probably subscribe to your mailing list…

Of course, marketers are on social channels to increase brand exposure, increase sales and provide a customer service function.  But just like my chats with customers in store all those years ago, remember that you’re dealing with real people and we need to take an interest in their passions AND the fact that they are real people.


One response to “Why were my days at HMV like social media?

  1. Great post, Callum. I certainly agree that social media programmes should be about building trust, not self-promotion.

    Now, to change the subject slightly – I am a big fan of Steely Dan and I also like Chicago blues. Can you recommend any good albums I might like to listen to? 🙂

    All the best


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