Making the most of social media

February 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm 1 comment

Kathleen hosting social media discussion.

Photo by Sheila Carruthers

In the two years since I first wrote about social media, the question has gone from “How do I use social media in my business?” to “How do I get the best bang for my buck with social media?” To some extent, the answer must depend on your goal; some social media tools are better suited to certain uses than others. There are also some general principles—such as not ticking off others. But how?

I recently hosted a series of discussions on social media for local communications consultants. What follows is what each of us has learned so far from our venture into this new world.

Business goals of social media

I like to think that there are three main uses for social media in business: community building, collaboration and reputation building.

Community building creates a social network of people who all share a common interest or experience. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the obvious tools. In addition to Facebook personal profiles viewable by your friends, organizations can have a Page and invite others to “Like” them, or form a Group around a social cause. Both can advertise events and invite those who “Like” them to RSVP. The Facebook platform supports photos and videos. Don’t underestimate the power of the “Like.” It shows up in the Liker’s personal profile and their Wall, which is linked to their friends’ Walls. People who see that their friends like something will often follow the link and “Like” it, too. Before you know it, you have a community. You can poll them about possible changes to your product or services that you are considering, or social actions you would want support on. The advantage of using your Facebook community as a focus group is that they are already interested in what you do. And it’s free. Facebook is not as easy to use for business-to-business operations because it’s geared to individuals, but there are some success stories even there.

LinkedIn is the professional’s version of Facebook. Instead of Friends, you have Connections and get weekly reports on their new connections and Groups they have joined. The groups you join are your communities. Group members ask each other questions, discuss topics, provide business leads and share notices of upcoming training or other events of mutual interest. A group may be the social media wing of a professional organization that you already belong to, or be based on a special interest or field of endeavour. You can also create your own Group—for instance, people who have taken a course you offer.

Twitter builds communities of followers based on tags you associate with your Twitter feed. Within the space of 140 characters, you can promote events, ask for action, share insights, ask questions and link to interesting information found elsewhere (e.g., your own or others’ websites/blogs/videos.) It’s important to balance self-promotion with promotion of others’ content in order to be seen as a trustworthy resource. People will re-tweet announcements they see as helpful to their network.

What is most critical is to provide useful information from your followers’ point of view. The only person who cares to know that you are on the way to your dentist is your dentist. If you must tweet about your trip to the dentist, establish a separate Twitter name for personal tweets.

A recent Twitter poll found that about 41% of non-profits tweet once or twice a day, and 40% tweet three to five times a day. While it is annoying to re-tweet the exact same content, it is OK to tweet about a different aspect of the same event or blog post than before. Sometimes what didn’t sound interesting to a follower before may capture their attention using a different angle.

Up and coming on the community-building scene is YouTube. Besides being able to comment on other people’s videos (similar to photo comments in Facebook, Flickr and Picasa), I’ve seen video responses, as well

as video conversations within the deaf community using sign language. As the technology for making and editing video becomes less costly, video will become an expected means of communicating within social networks, putting a human face on your organization.

Collaboration is made much easier by social media. Wikis can be used to train new staff by creating a reference library, or build documentation for a project. In addition to

emailing documents to each other, you can now store them in the cloud for colleagues (and yourself) to access whenever and wherever they are needed. This storage is free for the most part and as secure as anything else to do with computers. Both Dropbox and Google Docs can track various versions of your document and time-stamp them. Other services, such as Google Shared Spaces and Central Desktop add project management features, such as project timelines, tasks, due da

tes and who is responsible. Some even allow online meetings with automatic recording of content for later reference. Skype can also be used for free long-distance meetings via computer, as well as conference calls (but without the video feature).

Reputation building is the function that most attracts organizations to social media, but is one of the trickiest to achieve, largely because of the baggage they bring with them. Corporate-speak goes down like a rock

. And anything that comes across like marketing or the hard sell is immediately suspect. To build a reputation as a trustworthy source of information, you have to be genuinely helpful. Blogs, Twitter, podcasts, YouTube, Slideshare (for PowerPoint presentations) and social bookmarking sites (e.g., Delicious) are common tools. The web is a big place and it’s sometimes challenging to find useful resources among the tens of thousands of hits from a Google search. With Delicious, you can enter your keywords and see what web pages other Delicious users found helpful on that topic. And by posting your own favourite resources on a topic, others benefit from your work. So always add meaningful keywords to your posts in any social medium.

LinkedIn also provides useful ways to build a reputation as an expert. LinkedIn members ask questions on various topics. You can search questions in your subject area and answer them. If the person thinks you gave the best answer, you are flagged as having expertise in that area and a note is added on your profile and when you answer other questions. Another LinkedIn strategy that makes marketing sense is to join groups composed of those who could be your clients (or donors), rather than just groups of peers. Then participate in discussions and share information that helps group members achieve their goals.

Social media communicators talk a lot about influence. Becoming an influencer takes time. The first step is to find out who the top influencers are in your area of interest or expertise. Search blog hosts, such as WordPress, using keywords related to your interest. Who is posting a lot in that area? Are others engaging in conversation with them through comments? Are they commenting a lot on others’ posts on the same topics? These are the people with social media influence. Join their conversations and add thoughtful insights or missing information. You will get noticed (and Googled). As you add your own content via blogs, tweets, YouTube videos or other means, the influencers will start engaging on your sites and their followers may come, too. As this continues, you and your organization become a go-to source for facts and informed opinions on the issues of your field. And it’s not just regular folks who pay attention to influencers; the media do, as well.

Who has the time?

Do you have to give up your day job to make the most of social media? No, although you get out of it what you put into it. One social media company suggests that you need to spend 32 hours each month building and maintaining your profile on each tool you use. But there are some strategies to manage your media more efficiently. First, start with just one social media tool, choosing one that fits your organization’s business goals and is used by your desired audience or community. Let people know about it so that they can join the conversation. Ask what they want to hear about. Respond to comments candidly. As your needs or au

diences change or grow, you may want to expand into other social media.

Set aside time at the start or end of the day to monitor the conversation, update your organization’s “status” or engage in social media discussions. Hootsuite is one tool that allows you to track conversations, schedule and integrate your updates, measure your click-throughs and more. Like many social media tools, a basic membership is free and may meet your needs without upgrading.

Get in the game

If your organization has been hesitating about establishing a social media presence, or wants to revamp (or set up) its website, now is the time to incorporate social media effectively into your strategic plan.

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Entry filed under: Management, Social Media. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

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