It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you finally sit down to plot a course through the rapidly expanding world of social media. Literally, thousands of social media tools have been developed and launched in the past ten years. In his Conversation Prism, Brian Solis attempts to map out the landscape of social media as it stands today.
It’s a daunting picture, especially for someone just starting out using social media. If you are like most small or independent business owners, you aren’t particularly interested in revolutionizing online communications. You are probably just looking for a way to engage with your customers online, and create greater exposure for your business.
So how do you assemble a social media toolkit that suits your needs? The bottom line is that there are no hard and fast rules to using new media. But there are a few things you should keep in mind as you assemble these tools and craft your online strategy:
Go Where Your Audience Is
Most social networks have their own unique culture. Furthermore, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Sure there are 1.3 billion active users on Facebook … but how many of them are really interested in what you have to offer? If your clientele is of a certain demographic that isn’t active on a particular network, it doesn’t matter how much you like it. It’s not a useful tool.
Find out where the people you want to reach are hanging out online. Look for communities where you can make an impact, and where you know people are interested in what you do. Look for networks where you already know established members who can help you get adjusted and introduced around.
Create a Routine
Social media isn’t a “set it and forget it” enterprise. It’s meant to be used for daily interaction. Most of us who are already ‘hooked’ by our network wouldn’t dream about missing a single day in our favorite communities. But if you’re just getting established, you may need to create a routine so that you will be sure to log in EVERY DAY and engage.
Being present, active and approachable online is essential for making the most of your time there. You can’t pay someone else to do it, and you can’t ‘schedule’ posts, tweets or other activity and then forget about logging in for days at a time and then expect to see results.
Work With Your Limitations
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they get into social media is trying to do too much. If you only have an hour a day that you can devote to social media, you don’t need to be a member of ten different communities. Quality trumps quantity every time. Select one or two networks to get started and spend time getting to know their ins and outs. When you have more time, you can add more to your network—or change your focus as your business evolves.
You want to use social media synergistically with everything else you’re doing. That means it isn’t just a hobby or something you do to kill time in between customer service and bookkeeping. Use your communities to organize and share information related to your business. Make social media an integral part of your business by using mobile apps so you can engage on the go. Use multimedia to engage—video, audio, photography, and text. Make sure all of the communities that you are an active member are connected to each other so people can follow you from site to site and engage with you where THEY feel comfortable. Weave your social media into everything you do—online and off.
Make it Fun
If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t continue to do it. Social media is addicting precisely because it IS fun. But you may be so concerned about your business that you try to take all the personality out of what you’re doing in social media, lest you offend someone or come off as unprofessional.
Obviously, common sense should rule. There are certain things you don’t want to say or do online (or anywhere in public, for that matter). But the reason why social media is so powerful is that it does allow people to connect on a personal level—even when doing business.
Go ahead, flesh out your profile, start conversations, and share photos. Don’t worry about numbers of followers or special badges. Focus on the people you are connecting with. Ask their advice, compliment their work, and “LOL” at their jokes. Heck, tell a few of your own. If you’re having fun, you’ll find people online flocking to you … and your business.
Find a Mentor
Finding someone who has already been down the path you’re on is the best way to help you avoid mistakes and see the benefits of your work online. Trial and error may be a good teaching tool, but it can also harm your business reputation. Look for someone who seems to have their act together and ask them some questions. Develop a relationship with them and let them know you’re looking to them for leadership, guidance, and examples of how to succeed. They will no doubt be flattered—and will be able to help you with their own connections.
Your social media toolkit doesn’t have to be full of tools you don’t really need, nor does it need to be stuffed with pricey tools that you aren’t even sure how to use. Select your tools based on practical things like whether your clients are using them, and how comfortable you are using them. Remember, social media is first and foremost about being social with other like-minded people. If your tools don’t allow you to do that, you’re wasting your time.
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Amanda Quraishi is a writer, blogger, and activist living in Austin, Texas. She works as the Social Media Manager at UpSpring Baby, a company making innovating products for moms and babies. For more information on Amanda, visit Amanda Quraishi.com.