Our goal seemed simple enough. Create a roadmap for promoting your company using social media. Well, nothing's simple in the wild and wooly world of social media. However, I think we made a good start.
With nearly 100 entrepreneurs and executives gathered in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area on February 23 and 24, we identified some milestones for implementing a social media strategy for our business.
The event, sponsored by our good friends, CPA firm and business advisors, Rothstein Kass, was lead by top experts in their field. And they were indeed expert-level:
Lena West, president of xynoMedia, a social media consulting firm that specializes in women-owned businesses, brought entrepreneurial savvy to our quest. Her work in the field has earned her accolades and top clients in commerce.
Adam Christensen, Social Media Communications Manager at IBM, manages a platform that enables tens of thousands of IBMers to share knowledge both internally and externally. IBM's social media efforts are light years ahead of most large companies.
Here's a summary of their advice and their rules for social media success:
FIRST, WHY BOTHER: Everyone's doing it. While that's not a bad reason, the scale of the opportunity became apparent when we shared examples of social media in action. For example, the misstep of a competitor that turned into a market share grab. In the old days ("PT" or "Pre-Twitter"), we might have turned a blind eye to a frustrated customer. After all, few others could hear them vent. Not so anymore. One angry customer, if left unanswered, can poison the waters with many others using social media as a megaphone. The new era of transparency is no longer just a virtue, it's a business necessity.
LISTEN: Just as you'd do in a face-to-face conversation, listen before you talk. Who are the participants? What is the style of communication that works best? You wouldn't walk into a party and start jabbering before you felt out the crowd and the mood. Social media is no different.
TRACK: Where should you be listening? Draw up a list of ten to twenty words, phrases or names and start tracking the conversation. Then use Google Reader and Google Blog Search (both free), to track keywords and phrases in one convenient place. Consider following company names, competitors and well-known executives names. When you want to take your tracking to the next level, use Radian6 (paid).
Pay attention to the blogs, sites and social media platforms that show up most often in your tracking efforts. That's where you need to be.
PRACTICE: Consider, as a warm-up, picking a different topic to begin conversing in social media. For example, start with a personal interest or hobby and see if you can get the feeling for how social media conversations flow before you do anything under your brand name.
LEARN THE ETIQUETTE: Whether it's the symbols of the medium (remember when you first heard "LOL"?) or just practicing your spelling, one frequent giveaway of a social media newbie is the flubs and faux pas we make when we start talking. (See "Listen" to learn more). In addition, Adam's firm, IBM, has created a thoughtful document called IBM Social Computing Guidelines, which can help you advance your firm's social media presentation.
GO TO THE MOUNTAIN: If you can afford it, you may be tempted to bring the community to you by hosting your own blog or creating your own community space. However, your customers are likely already attached to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or any of the other hundreds of social media platforms. Many of the largest brands in the world have built their communities inside of these platforms. This is one of those times where the big companies got it right: If you can't bring the mountain to Mohammed, bring Mohammed to the mountain
MEASURING SUCCESS: This certainly was an area loaded with interest. Several participants seeking metrics were asked to re-think their position. While metrics must come to your social media strategy eventually, you'll first need to define what you're trying to get out of the strategy: new sales? Deeper customer relations? Customer service? Brand awareness?
Sure, using new sales as a metric was the first choice for many. But our experts felt that the medium was more suited to the other goals of better customer relationships and brand awareness. There simply isn't the evidence that direct sales generation is the best use of social media. Perhaps, it was suggested, a sales-driving strategy was more suited to "cost-per-click"-style promotion while social media was more attuned to relationships.
WHAT'S NEXT? In the rapidly changing world of social media, anyone can be forgiven for being afraid of big changes yet to take place. There's good reason to fear pulling the trigger after MySpace was overtaken by Facebook and Facebook begins being crowded out by Twitter. But our experts demonstrated their own thought leadership when they answered this question: What is the most important platform to pay attention to for businesses:
Adam Christensen responded: LinkedIn.com
Lena West said: Twitter
There you have it folks. Listen, learn and latch on.
For more information about social media, go to Inc's 30 Tips for Using Social Media in Your Business.
LEWIS SCHIFF is the executive director of the Inc. Business Owners Council. His latest book is Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons From the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons.
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