And you thought the web would allow you to hide in your mom’s basement and run a business to fund your beer and gamer laptop obsession without having to experience direct sunlight or interact with others. Silly you. Being sociable on the web isn’t just neighborly, it’s downright required for running your website or e-business successfully. Fortunately, there are enough tricks and tips today that you can do a lot of it from the privacy of your own office, cubicle, or sofa. Here are five steps to making sure you’re not left behind by the social media tsunami.
1. Go Old School.
This means developing actual face-to-face relationships with real human beings. It can be daunting if you’re the shy type, but the investment of time and occasionally money will pay off in a big way. Attend trade shows, business expos, and other events in your community. Even grant-writing workshops can be great opportunities for building up your flesh-and-blood network. Many communities have business clubs just for people who run their own businesses with the sole purpose of trading information and leads. Try it.
2. Prepare and Plan.
Social media sites help bring together individuals. Keep an eye on the proceedings and get a sense of what people in your field are talking about. Follow people in your industry on Twitter. Get a feeling for the general vibe. Are these deadly serious interactions? Or are they more casual and non-intimidating. Know the climate you’re entering.
You should also know whether you are interested in connecting with marketing experts, product developers, designers, or just plain customers and seek these people out. If you have employees develop a social media policy with guidelines on appropriate ways to engage in social media marketing online. While the attractive redhead in product development might attract plenty of attention with pictures of herself leaning over a copier, you won’t be seen as a serious enterprise (unless you’re a producer of adult content). Get everyone in your firm on the same page when it comes to social media marketing.
Start small. Participate in one or two social media platforms at first, and build your strategy from there. While social media marketing is increasing in performance it doesn’t mean you have to tackle every single platform all at once. Doing so is a recipe for miscommunication and potentially marketing disaster, particularly if you don’t have a social media policy in place.
3. Listen twice as much as you talk.
Know what conversations you’re entering before you enter them. Barging into a conversation with a horribly tone-deaf statement will be something you’ll have to make up for an will cost you valuable social media marketing time. There are several ways you can monitor conversations and social media content to get an idea of the general zeitgeist.
Try Social Media Firehose (http://pipes.yahoo.com/update_maker/social_media_fire_hose) to track a niche or brand across a large range of social media sites. As you can see in the first screen shot, I’ve chosen to track “Nexus One phone.” I don’t care to filter by location, and I’m not interested in filtering out certain domains or URLs (such as my own Tweets on the subject). Once I click on “Run Pipe,” after a minute or two I can look at a map or a list of the latest chatter about the Nexus One phone. The second screen shot shows part of the list of results I got. I can click on any of those and find out the latest of what people are saying on social media about the Nexus One phone.
4. Interact with people.
It’s best to start out small: leave comments on blogs, build a Twitter community, or upload images to Flickr. Create a Facebook page. Generally speaking, the more sociable you are (without being stalky or annoying) the more positive interaction you’ll get and the better your company will look from the social media universe. If you’re prone to “forget” to interact, or if you’re prone to never stop interacting once you stop, it’s a good idea to structure time into your schedule to participate. Maybe you could block out the first half hour after lunch to interact on social media sites. It’s long enough to make your presence known, but it doesn’t blow the entire afternoon.
5. Stop and reevaluate.
It may be worth meeting with staff weekly to discuss the things you’ve learned from your social media marketing activity. Have you learned anything new about your customers and potential customers? Did you get any product or company feedback? Are you managing the company’s reputation well? Do customers know you better now? Has there been an up-tick in sales, leads, or site visits?
Social media marketing is here for the foreseeable future, so you might as well make the most of it. If you do it right, you can get a lot in return for your investment of time. While there will continue to be trends and fads about which sites are the hottest and which are so-five-minutes-ago, it doesn’t look like social media marketing is going to go away. If your competition hasn’t already started using social media marketing, being the first is awesome. If they have, then you’ll just have to be both different and better at it. It’s like any marketing strategy: you’ll invest time, energy, and money (whatever that time is worth), and in the end, you hope to build up your brand and get more customers. Don’t pin every hope you have on social media marketing, but don’t sit it out either. The opportunities in it are too big to ignore.