Yes, Virginia, there is value in social media.
A remarkable amount of businesspeople still think Twitter is a waste of time and Facebook is for silly quizzes. Some still think blogging is self-indulgent.
First: Define Your Focus.
This is basic branding stuff: it’s all about positioning and differentiation. Who are you? What makes you different? Why should customers do business with you?
Those are questions you should be able to answer off the cuff. If you struggle to answer them, or the answers you give don’t sound compelling, take a second right now to add a task to your to do list or calendar: set aside a few hours this week to work on that.
And then: try to define your focus for being online. For many businesses, social media may not be about making a sale as much as it about networking with others in the industry, getting into the minds of your customers and getting fast feedback on new ideas, or simply growing your brand’s online presence to develop everyone’s favorite marketing term: “awareness.”
Second Step: Participate.
You may not be able to imagine at first all the benefits that may come from a well-developed presence online, and that’s OK, but you will want to be able to start somewhere. And the worst place to start, generally, is selling yourself.
There are many metaphors for what social media is: the cocktail party, a conversation, theads, streams, etc. But the easiest to imagine is the cocktail party, so think about it this way: when you sign up for a service like Twitter and immediately start talking about why people should buy from you, it really is like walking into a cocktail party and going around shoving your business card in partygoers’ faces. Why on earth would they want to buy from you?
A better approach is to recognize that you are walking into existing conversations, and to ease your way into them gracefully, offering intelligent and useful contributions, entertaining when appropriate, and generally doing your part to keep the party going.
What do you not do at cocktail parties?
Don’t ask people “So… what do you do?” On Twitter as at a cocktail party, there’s rarely a reason to resort to such a blatant conversational crutch. Talking around work is fine, but don’t talk about it. If ever there was a more boring conversation starter, it would have to be “So… what did you eat today?”
Don’t ask people “So… what did you eat today?” There are certainly exceptions, but foodtweets (and food blog posts, and food Facebook updates, and so on) are perhaps the laziest excuse for social networking ever. Among the exceptions: you just had a delightful dining experience, say, and you want to promote the restaurant; or you have something funny to remark about what you just ate. And don’t get me wrong: almost everyone does it once in a while — I’m certainly guilty of a few unjustified foodtweets myself. But unless your business somehow relates to the delicious food you eat (such as: you’re a food critic), foodtweeting is a habit best avoided.
Don’t carry on drawn-out conversations with one person. Cocktail parties, like Twitter, are for mingling. But a common gaffe on Twitter is the excessive use of replies to carry on two-person conversations, often with one word responses, such as:
These conversations would be much better served over IM or email. No one needs to bear witness to whether you’re meeting so-and-so for lunch at 12:15 or whether 12:30 would be better.
Third Step: Refining Your Brand & Content Strategy
This is the step where it gets into tying together what you blog about, where you comment, what you bookmark, and so on.
It’s also where it becomes an artform to be authentic and conversational while trying to increase interest in what you post. This might mean writing content that feels like giving away the farm, in a sense, but the social media market rewards information sharing and transparency with trust, credibility, and authority.
This means rewarding those who reward you: when someone replies to you on Twitter, they’re promoting your name and account for all of their followers. Where it makes sense to do so, it may make sense to reply back to that user and boost their exposure as well. Similarly, reward those who link to your site and blog by linking back to them where appropriate, in turn encouraging more people to link to you so they can get the same link love.
It also means diversifying your investment: spreading out your efforts across multiple platforms means more work, but it can mean exponentially more exposure.
And if all of this begins to feel too intense and time-consuming, it might be worth distilling it back to the essence. It’s far more effective to have a reliable and personable presence in one medium than a ghost of a presence across several. And it’s better than falling back on tweeting about food. Which reminds me: I think I’ll have a salad for lunch.
For more strategy guidance, talk to us. We help lots of businesses, small and large, every day with social media strategy and management, search engine optimization, paid search marketing and other customer acquisition strategies, usability, analytics, and overall web site effectiveness.