Enis Sabotic works for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Transfer at the Technical University of Dortmund as a network and community manager. And he describes in this new episode of the special series “Social Media”, how corporates use the social networks for marketing purposes.
The podcast comes out regularly with a new episode. In addition to this English-language version, a German-language version is also published in parallel. Always in alternation there is a column or an audio lexicon.
This is a special series on social media. There will be 14 episodes in total. In episode 2, Eric Sabotic is the interview partner:
What is the importance of social media for Enis?
For me, social media, in my professional context, is an effective way to get out into the world, to be able to communicate with the community, to be able to expand our community effectively, and to be able to learn at the same time what’s on right now. It can start with small examples when there are interesting new 3D printing processes that are being discussed super hot right now. We can build a personality with our public institution where we can express ourselves through language, chosen stylistic devices, and visuals.
And thus create an image of ourselves and be able to direct that a little bit. If you had to describe the 2010s with one term, both highly damaging and highly positive, it would be the term social media for me.
Social media is a significant driver behind great social changes. I’m convinced that some of the political changes, starting in 2011 with the Arab Spring, all the way to the U.S. elections in 2016, and also in 2020 and the presidency of Donald Trump, would not have been possible without social media. Harmful in particular because many things are often reproduced in a way. Of course, we know the term fake news, that social media is often used as a mouthpiece for false information. And can be reproduced without context, quickly in a manipulative way if you suspend the context. These are often headlines that are just meant to entice you to click, to interact soon. If it says: You won’t believe what happened to this couple, find out now. – Then you want to click on it and find out. Social media works with such simple mechanisms. And these can be abused.
Technology has allowed social media to be ubiquitous. In 2010, and 2011, there weren’t as many people wandering around with a smartphone as there are now in 2020, 2021, and 2022. That we have solid smartphone coverage there, I can pull out my phone every day, every second, and I’m instantly up to date. That makes it a whole lot more manageable again.
Where there are negatives, there are positives. Social media has also allowed us to shape social change positively. Initiatives like Black Lives Matter are driven mainly by social media to expose abuses. That it just becomes difficult to suppress unpopular opinions.
For example, I see it with my parents that they’ve contacted people they haven’t heard from in maybe 10 or 20 years. The transaction costs have entirely disappeared. A little bit of that meshes, instant messaging and social media as a subset, with super-simplified communication is a super positive side.
What is Enis’ communication style on social media?
We are, first and foremost, a public institution that is also scientific. We follow the communication guidelines that we receive from the Technical University. What stylistic do we use? How do we shape our personality?
And we are always slightly detached in that respect. Trolls come along maybe once every three or four months, very rarely.
Entrepreneurship has to deal with clichés. The clichéd image of the entrepreneur who is just broke and working on some pyramid scheme with multilevel marketing.
And that’s where we try to actively work against, by showing that technical know-how is required, that we support all kinds of sides, and that we target scientists first and foremost.
And the way we show ourselves on social media, the trolls are not quite as interested in that. So it doesn’t provide as much attack surface.
What are the differences and similarities in offline and online network management?
One of the most significant differences is scalability. I can only talk to a certain number of people in real life. I can channel it all the better for it. That means I can tailor my speech for each person so that I know okay, I see my counterpart. I see my counterpart’s reaction. It can also be a small audience of10 to 20 people where I briefly tell them something about the CET. Introduce our community or introduce our spaces, interact and, of course, try to get people to stay with us, interact with us. Show okay, here is a place where I like to be, where I can meet new people and collaborate. And it’s actually in real life, targeting is much easier, and I can inspire someone more quickly. But then here, I can get maybe two people a day excited about the topic.
Whereas community work on social media it’s more passive, and you’re competing with many, many more others for attention. And it’s harder to find a targeted approach there if I then address 1,000 people in that case. Both visually and linguistically, I have to find stylistic means that roughly fit them all. That’s a bit of a difficulty.
Digital work has a slightly dominant share in my daily work, although I should mention that we are, of course, a team of three people. I have two other colleagues who are a bit more active on the ground, and for them, it’s probably the other way around.
How to implement community work effectively?
It is challenging to learn something in theory. You have to have been part of a community yourself for several years. A classic example is being a moderator on Reddit, managing a community yourself somewhere. If you’ve watched 20 courses or tutorials on YouTube, that will get you very, very little. The practical part is much more valuable.
Community work on Instagram means fighting for attention in the first place and getting people to participate actively. Even if you run a niche channel but are relatively broadly distributed, getting three or four percent of people to interact is challenging.
That can be a survey, for example. People love to talk about themselves. I mean, that’s why there are podcast formats where people are invited and tell about themselves. And open questions in the community are always the first good approach to getting started a little bit, discussing, and creating a space with yourself.
Beyond that, what we’re slowly building up now and learning a little bit, is to get into an active discourse on other platforms yourself as a CET personality, as a digital personality. And that’s something you forget when you’re just starting and building up a social media channel like this. Oh, so now I build a channel, post something every second, third day, write a little something underneath. And then maybe after three or four months, I ask myself: Okay, why am I not growing?
It’s the case that you have to enter into a bit more discourse with your digital ego. And then maybe you can take a leaf out of the book of the big players and use their platforms. As a start-up center, you could also look at what the community is talking about on international platforms. Or on large sites that report on the latest technologies. It’s a lot of research work to find that. But it pays off in the long run.
For example, when you’re on famous sites or sites with an extensive reach, automatically, just as a small example, the top comments are primarily from other significant communities or other comprehensive profiles. If Adidas posts something, you might see one or two prominent personalities underneath that contribute something, but it’s just about being actively visible and appearing on it.
An absolute no-go is to buy followers. If someone wants to build a social media channel now, I know it’s weird at the beginning, super odd, when just ten people follow you. And you’ve already put a lot of work into it. But you can analyze it. If someone were to throw your profile into specific databases, you could see: Okay, 50% of your followers are fake. And secondly, that doesn’t help your community. These half-dead accounts serve to make your number look artificially more significant. I would advise against that. You should also not forget that these accounts will eventually be blocked and deleted. The number drops, and you don’t know whether you might even somehow be targeted by the social platforms because you have bought them – and then, in the worst case, you will even be banned. But the main thing is that it’s pointless, simply because it’s not a real community.
Spamming with non-target hashtags is another thing I would not advise. For example, as CET, we have a post about our makerspace. That’s a prototyping workshop where our teams work on initial prototypes with a laser cutter, 3D printer, and other devices. And I make a proper hashtag search and look at what is explicitly being talked about in the community, in the Makerspace community, or in the Maker community? Is it specific 3D printing processes? Are they certain machines or particular products that are all the rage? Instagram already suggests quite neatly how many posts there are under particular hashtags.
We always ensure they are in the five-digit range, five to six digits. But not million-digit hashtags. That’s just spammed. So follow-for-follow, all these classic ones that you know. There you just attract spam accounts and bots.
What I can recommend, on the other hand, especially when you’re starting, is to pick five global brands that inspire you. And choose five local niche accounts or brands that do their job well. That have communities of followers in the low four-digit range – and the others in a million field. It gives you a global view of what the big players are doing. And once, as a bit of inspiration, the five small ones. The good thing is that you get new inspiration that way. So it’s not wrong to be inspired by already existing things.
Reels work very well to reach a large audience as quickly as possible, and personality comes second. Reels are usually played to a small test group. Then you get a few 100 impressions. And if it works well with the small test group, then it is played out in a large one. And then it can grow and grow and grow. The difficulty here is to get people to perform some kind of action that takes place afterward. A lot of people forget that. It has to be something that gets people to maybe go to your profile and, at best, follow you.
Reels are there to create entertainment for a very brief moment. The top three reasons why start-ups fail – as an example. It’s fast-food-knowledge. It’s consumed, but it’s not now a concrete benefit you’re getting in the long run. It’s often the case with Reels that, for example, recipes or other posts are played out where people think to themselves, ah, I’ll do that sometime, save your post – which secretly counts as a Super like.
For us, carousel posts have worked well. Carousel posts are slideshows that build on each other. You’re telling stories. That means I have a visual hook in the first image, perhaps provocative or simply fascinating. And then, I can tell the story in the other slides, which we also see on LinkedIn with some accounts with an extensive reach.
Text is very, very difficult. Purely from a visual design point of view, I would make sure that the text is big enough to be readable when I’m looking at the complete profile of my account—so looking at the whole feed and having thumbnails of posts. More text should be in the description so that it gets picked up by search engines, and also, you can neatly put all the tags. If you have more text to communicate, especially if it’s just about edutainment, then on each one carousel post – then behind it going further posts.
How to decide which content format to use?
Visual appeal is super, super important. I don’t mean whether someone struts down our aisles like a model, but whether what is shown in the image fixates the viewer and makes them want to keep watching.
The prime example is the things that are made in our Makerspace. They are super easy to transport visually. If I simply point my camera at it for a moment and record it. Something highly technical is happening. For example, we have a laser scanner: You walk around a person. And a 3-D image of the person is created immediately.
However, when it comes to consulting services or, for example, funding programs from the state to promote your start-up and also secure your finances. Much more information has to be conveyed than. And then we reduce it into a small story.
Especially on Instagram, visual appeal is crucial. If nothing happens in the image or in the motif that I want to show, then I can consider whether I prepare it differently with the help of an illustration, a graphic, or a story, that consists of several slides. And has a lure on the first slide.
Why are different channels used differently?
These social media management tools can tempt you to copy and paste and post everything on all channels: I now wrote a post today, created a graphic for it, and uploaded it all. The only thing I have to do is click “duplicate.” And it is posted on all the other networks.
But it’s super, super important to pay attention to the technical dimension. Not all graphics or videos work for the format specifications of each network. For example, I can render a portrait video super on Instagram as a reel. On LinkedIn, the feed is designed a bit differently. Videos in landscape format work there a bit better. That said, you’re disregarding the technical specifications by just duplicating everything. However, customization requires more work.
Setting texts can go wrong. You have to be aware that certain crops and overlays are different in the format specifications. For example, on Instagram, even with portrait videos, the bottom and top of the preview cut off everything, which means I lose text areas there. So-called safe areas. You have to consider the length of the videos. A reel may be a maximum of one minute long. If I prepare a two-minute video for Linkedin, it won’t work there. That’s the technical component.
The content component is even more critical once I understand what kind of target groups are on the go on the respective networks. We have the case on LinkedIn that it’s primarily early professionals and people who are just trainees, graduated, and gaining their first years of work experience. And beyond that, there might be a few students on here who are about to graduate. But the proportion here is significantly lower than on Instagram. That means the communication is adjusted. We are more businesslike on LinkedIn and still use emojis, but reduced compared to Instagram.
On Instagram, we are a tad more lively as a personality. For example, we post posts purely for entertainment or simply to raise awareness of the topic. Someone who hasn’t had any contact with our start-up network or our initiative, we can pick up that person much more on Instagram because that’s where the students are that are just still on campus but have never seen the CET or haven’t had a point of contact with it yet.
We have many more people who already had some connection with the CET on LinkedIn. Purely from a content perspective, we carry the more advanced content there. You already slightly assume that the audience knows the CET and specific terms and codes, and you can then communicate on that language level. Whereas Instagram, of course, is a little bit easier, a little bit more introductory.
And then there’s our child Facebook. Where can we start there? We differentiate the content primarily between Instagram, raising awareness of the topic, and Linkedin – deeper insights into the respective issues. And then see, okay, if we’re more likely to duplicate that for Facebook after all, because then the effort isn’t worth it because the organic reach on Facebook is minimal.
What would Enis recommend as a starting point for social media?
You should first take a step back and look at the big picture. You should think very clearly, why am I on social media in the first place? What do I even want to accomplish with it? Social media is not necessary for everyone. Sensitivity to it has been sharpened a bit, but it was just been a student job in the past. Here, go ahead, and post on social media. You’re already doing that. It’s clear that this gives away a lot of potentials, that you’re just there because everyone else is there.
I would take a step back to get the big picture because I should understand why I am doing this whole thing? What do I want to accomplish with this? Do I want to sell a product through social media? Then the approach is entirely different than if I want to appear as a personality on social media and create a digital image of myself.
For example, whether it’s for an extroverted person or a professionally super accomplished person who appears as a coach or a mentor on Instagram.
Once I’ve defined my goals, the second step is to understand how these artificial person talks, how they appear, how they communicate, and what linguistic devices they use, for example, to reflect the goals. That’s also something super important. If I want to build an extroverted personality or some crazy brand, I can’t just communicate factually. Then, I have to share correctly in the field accordingly. That’s where it goes in the branding direction.
When I’m at the beginning, I mentioned this at the beginning, applying my five-five rule: Five huge brands active in the field. Then I can look at the American market and how the big brands are doing there. And then five niche accounts, how they are doing. The same applies to both LinkedIn and Instagram. And then I get inspired by the content.
And sustained posting is super important. If I set a goal to post three times a day or if it’s only three times a week now. If I don’t follow that and I’m steady posting content, and I don’t let that get me down too, I have a community of three people at the beginning, consisting of my aunt, my best friend, and my girlfriend.
That continuity is what builds a community. The continuous posting, even if I only have a tiny community initially. Because people get on my account and already find 20 posts there and think there is an active person behind it. Who also posts content in specific periods. I might be more inclined to follow the account than if I only find two posts there from 2019 and 2021.
So get inspired, continuity, and definitely, set obvious goals beforehand. And sit back once, think about the purpose for what I am doing all this work? What do I want to achieve in the first place? Does this even fit with my entrepreneurial goals?