No one responds when I post. We don’t get any comments. I don’t think anyone is listening.

If there’s one question I hear the most it’s a variant on these. The sheepish and dreaded admission that their social activity or blogging venture isn’t actually that social. The first thing I say is, this is OK. That lets some of the air out of the room during a tense admission like this. It’s OK because most social activity starts with things a little more quiet on the Western front.

By now the metaphor of building a ‘campfire’ for social media is nothing new. Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman has a great chapter on this concept. One of the reasons this construct fits is that like building a good campfire, social media engagement takes time, tools, and isn’t always that easy.

In the Boy Scouts, we’re taught about the three types of wood needed to build a strong, sustainable fire (this is one of the things I remember from earning the rank of Eagle Scout; the knots sadly did not make the cut). These three types of wood — tinder, kindling, and fuel — can also be applied to social media conversations and content. If employed correctly, all three can help you get your fire roaring.


Tinder catches fire easily and burns fast. Wood shavings, pine needles, dry grasses, and shredded bark all make good tinder. Gather a double handful or enough to fill your hat once. — The Boy Scout Handbook

Conversations that make good tinder or fire starters are photo sharing contests or discussions around topical news or current events either directly related to your audience or you might have something catch that’s off-topic as well. These little sparks can be great for getting the conversation started. Content that can serve as good tinder include videos which are highly engaging and sharable or blog posts centered around new and exciting things. For example, my posts on Google+ and Instagram have started some good fires for my brand.

Remember, you just need a “hatful” of these quick firestarters. After all, while fun to burn quickly, too much tinder won’t make a big fire that stands the test of time. Put another way, you don’t want to be a pyro that just has fun burning little things.


Dry, dead twigs no thicker than a pencil are called kindling. Find enough to fill your hat twice. — The Boy Scout Handbook

A little bigger than tinder, conversations that make good kindling focus on core solutions you provide your audience or direct relief for their questions and needs. For example, if you’re in home improvement, focus on conversations that help people plan their remodel rather than selling nails and sheetrock.

Examples of content kindling include your bread-and-butter blog posts — those regular pieces that you produce consistently and are well known for. They can also involve others more to build a stronger fire by leveraging the oxygen from outside networks. Do this via interviews, book or product reviews, and podcasts.

Bottom line, with kindling you need your “two hatfuls.” Adjusted for business, this simply means it needs to be valuable conversations or content that you can produce a lot of as it’s the foundation of your fire.


Fuel can be different types of timber. Timber ranges from small logs two or three inches (76 mm) across to larger logs that can burn for hours. It is typically difficult to gather without a hatchet or other cutting tool. — Wikipedia

Social conversations that burn bright over time are sustained Twitter chats like #blogchat as well as committing regular staff for long-term engagement rather than one-off social events or campaigns. Content fuel includes in-depth case studies, research reports, white papers, and eBooks. These heavier pieces have a longer-tail and can burn through the night.

Like the timber that’s difficult to gather without a hatchet, there’s no easy way to come by this conversation/content fuel outside of putting in the time and resources.

Gather ‘Round

So there you have it. With these three bundles sitting at the ready, you have all of the tools you need to tend your social media campfire. Like the Boy Scout motto, you have to be prepared. There are no shortcuts for building strong, social fires. Again, for more information on building literal fires you can’t beat the Boy Scout Handbook. However, if you want more detail on creating content of all shapes and sizes you need a copy of Content Rules on your bookshelf.

How do you fan your social flames? What kinds of fuel keep your campfire burning bright?

Photo via Flickr user