The Venetians routinely see cruise ships make their way through their city’s canals, hulking over the fragile Gothic buildings. When a city is literally sinking into the lagoon surrounding it, you wouldn’t expect gigantic cruise ships to be allowed anywhere near. NPR’s story “In Venice, Huge Cruise Ships Bring Tourists and Complaints,” proves otherwise.

I saw one of these ships myself during a trip to Venice. I was struck by how they overwhelmed the cityscape, drawing one’s attention, but not necessarily in a positive way. After several minutes of watching the ship lumber by, I wanted it gone so I could observe the city in peace. An obtrusive cruise ship bursts the magic bubble of the city’s ancient character.

On the other hand, Venice’s vaporetto (waterbus) system fits right into the city’s character. They are an important mode of transport, with locals and tourists alike using them. The vaporetto work by adapting and meeting a constant need: water transportation due to a lack of roads or subway.

Kick the Cruise Ship to the Curb
Many businesses take on the character of those cruise ships when they use social media. They broadcast their content, and they barge into conversations they have no place intruding on. Just like the city of Venice, relationships on social media are fragile. Businesses shouldn’t simply tweet, post on Facebook or pin content only related to themselves. It’s a one-way conversation many consumers simply don’t care to join. Worse, businesses that don’t pay attention to social media best practices are just like those cruise ships: big, annoying and loud. No brand wants those characteristics.

Instead, brands should be like the vaporetto. They smoothly weave throughout intricate communities online, being helpful and providing a service no one else can. Without the vaporetto, the Venetians would lose a key source of transport. Brands should strive to be their target audiences’ key source on social media as well.

Responding to consumer comments (and complaints), establishing a conversational brand voice and publishing useful content with specific action items will make your brand a vaporetto, not a cruise ship.

If you manage a brand’s social media, what strategies do you use to ensure you are making healthy connections with your target audiences?