I wrote the article below for Tech Marketing magazine. It is intended as a quick guide for marketers who are looking to engage with social media.
It is now impossible to ignore the power and reach of social media. Yet the rules of engagement are very different to traditional marketing and PR. Here are a few guidelines to how to tap the power of social media without stumbling into the many pitfalls:
1. Participate and play
The only way to understand social media is to participate. Don’t just open Facebook and Twitter accounts. You need to play extensively with a wide variety of tools and discover how they are being used. If you think you don’t have time, think how much time you’ll have if you cannot work effectively in a world increasingly driven by social media.
2. Discover relevant conversations
Find out what is being said about your company, your competitors and your industry. Relevant conversations can easily be uncovered with free tools such as Google Alerts, Technorati, Twitter Search and Social Mention. There is also a wealth of more sophisticated tools available to track what is being said by your current or potential customers that you can learn from.
3. Identify influencers
A little research will readily uncover who are the most prominent influencers outside the obvious journalists and analysts in your space. Think laterally – they are not always the most visible people, but those who have the respect of your key audience.
4. Build a relationship with influencers
Once you find influencers, it is a massive mistake to then deluge them with press releases and product information. Follow their blogs and Twitter, learn what interests them, make comments or replies, and start a conversation. That may earn you the right to raise your favourite topics. Offer them things they value, particularly privileged access or insights, or by making them more visible.
5. Don’t make half-hearted efforts
You need to decide whether it is important for you to create a presence on blogs, Twitter, Facebook or other social media. For some, a presence is essential, though not everyone needs to do it. If you do engage, then you must maintain consistent effort over a sustained period. You will look foolish if you try something and then give up on it, so be wholehearted in what you decide is worth doing.
6. Find experienced guides
There is no substitute for experience in understanding how social media functions. Absolutely dive in and learn for yourself, but also seek guidance from the early explorers and practitioners. Many so-called ‘social media experts’ are recent converts – find out how long and how successfully they’ve participated before putting faith in their advice.