Seinfeld. The show about nothing, or so it was billed, but one of the most successful shows in the world. I’ve spoken at conferences before and asked audiences when Seinfeld was on. More than a decade after it went off the air, people still remember what station it was on, what day of the week it was on, and what time.

What made it a great show? The same thing that Jerry Seinfeld was known for on stage as a standup comic, and the same thing that can take ordinary social media efforts and make them shine: universals.

What’s a universal? It’s something that an awful lot of people share. Seinfeld and George Carlin were both masters of pointing out the universals in our lives. Seinfeld had a routine about the secret lives of socks that neatly explained the inexplicable, like the lone sock in a laundry basket (its partner escaped) or on a sidewalk (an escapee that failed) in compelling stories that made a peculiar sort of sense. George Carlin made a living pointing out our inability to use the English language, especially when it came to things like airplane safety protocols (“What does it mean to pre-board? Do you get on before you get on?”) and political correctness.

These are universals. These are comedic references to daily life, outside of corporate babble, outside of hollow, shallow press releases. Universal experiences are experiences that many, if not all of us, have shared. They’re the weak social glue that give us common ground to start conversations.

Ever wonder why so many conversations start with the weather or sports? They’re our universals, things that are interesting enough to talk about but still safe, still common, shared experiences. Try starting a conversation with politics, sex, or religion and you’re just as likely to deeply offend the person you’re talking to as you are to engage them.

So what does this mean for your social media efforts? Take a look at what you’ve produced so far. Go on, look at your history. Look at what’s in your Twitter stream. Look at what’s on your blog. Look at your wall on Facebook. If your social media channels like this:

New blog post about our $#!&: xxx
New blog post about our $#!&: xxx
New blog post about our $#!&: xxx
Buy our $#!&!
New blog post about our $#!&: xxx
Have you bought our $#!& yet?
New blog post about our $#!&: xxx
New blog post about our $#!&: xxx
A press release about our $#!&: xxx
New blog post about our $#!&: xxx
Did you know we’re an industry leader in this $#!&?
New blog post about our $#!&: xxx

…then frankly, you fail at being human. You fail at creating any kind of universal that someone else can latch on to in order to start a conversation. As a result, your social media efforts will be relegated to mediocrity at best and perpetual ignorage at worst.

Try being human. It’s okay to talk about the game last night even on your corporate account as long as you use common sense and decent language. It’s okay to talk about the restaurant you ate at or the coworker next to you who has different music tastes (again, using good common sense and tact), because it conveys to the people you’re trying to reach that you’re human.

Here’s a parallel, a universal. Ever been to a bar and seen that guy? Yeah, you know the guy. He wears a cologne called Desperation and everyone in the bar mysteriously creates about five feet of space around him and avoids eye contact at all costs.

That’s your social media efforts if what you produce looks like the example above. You’re that guy.

So how do you stop being that guy? Look for universals if you have no idea what to say. Listen to other people. Actually make an attempt to discuss something other than what you’re trying to sell. Go back and watch Seinfeld re-runs or catch his standup routines. Go listen to George Carlin, Sam Kinnison, Chris Rock, and the legion of other comedians who have made careers out of universals (and the most successful comedians do, because niche comedy only goes so far). Then bring a little of that back into your social media efforts.

I look forward to a hearty laugh reading your newly universal social media.


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