I was in a mall, recently; shopping away to glory with family when I bumped into an old friend. He was with another friend and as is the norm, we were introduced. The other guy is a venture capitalist! We exchanged cards and he saw mine for a second or two more than usual and told me, ‘So, you’re that social media guru we all keep hearing about!’.

I cringed.

After all, this is a direct insult in front of my wife and son. He then went on, ‘See Karthik, I don’t believe in all this social media humbug. All this Facebook, Twitter etc.’.

I had to say something polite. And fast – it is supposedly a conversation, after all. The least I could utter was a ‘I understand’, with a smile that seemed polite enough.

He then continued, ‘You won’t believe the number of people who start with Facebook and Twitter…and even blogs when I ask them what is social media. Some even quote verbatim from Wikipedia. I wonder how you’d go about it!’

Is he asking me? I thought he did. Casually? Seriously? I had no idea. We don’t even know each other and here he is, throwing a question at me…the nerve…! A typical Seinfeld moment!

He’s a VC and must be used to a lot of elevator pitches from start-ups. I assumed he did ask me and went on to explain to him.

First, I took him out of that store we were in…out to the crowded corridor, in the 4th floor of that mall (Forum Mall, Koramangala – Bangalore, by the way). And pointed to him 4 people discussing something amongst themselves, somewhere in the 3rd floor. I asked him, ‘Can you hear what they are speaking about?’. He said the obvious – ‘No!’.

I then pointed out to a couple discussing something outside a shoe store in the 2nd floor. The same question and the same answer.

Then I asked him, ‘Can they hear what you and I are speaking about?’. Same answer, in a slightly annoyed, your-are-wasting-my-time-dude tone.

All this took just a few seconds. Then I started explaining.

One, social media helps you, as a brand, or as an individual, listen to people like them (on those other floors).

Two, it helps you frame your conversation and content in a way that those people can listen to you too, in return.

It is up to you, as an individual, or as a brand, to make the best of your enhanced listening capabilities; after all, this is often direct, unadulterated and frank conversations – may be about you, or your industry…or your competitors (for an individual, that would be your kind of person/interests/profession)!

It is also up to you, again, as a brand, or as an individual, to present the best of you to those people listening to you – you could piss them off by saying the obvious about you. Or, you could say something genuinely interesting to them, consistently and make them yearn for more.

That took just under a minute.

He interrupted with a slightly surprised, ‘But, what about all that Facebook, Twitter etc.? And what about social media marketing?’.

My response then was this.

Facebook, Twitter etc. are just tools that help you with both the listening and your conversations. And social media marketing is nothing but using paid media (advertising, to put it mildly) to attract attention of those people in the 2nd floor – that would be less like your saying something smart and interesting that first reaches the person in the 3rd floor and he passes it on to that group in 2nd floor…and more like you shouting right from here – the 4th floor – to attract their attention. The nuances are the only things that matter – you need to know who is seemingly more important, in your listening and what kind of things you should say to keep their interest alive.

For all this effort – lasting not more than 2 minutes…well inside elevator pitch standards…I got a slightly stunned and mildly impressed, ‘Not bad…not bad at all’ and a half smile! Man, that was one tough, cynical nut to crack!

So, how would your elevator pitch about ‘social media’ go? Remember, you have just under 2 minutes!

Photo courtesy, ATIS547 via Flickr.