With social media consultants popping up faster than Realtors in 2006, we need to set the record straight: knowing how to use the tools doesn’t make you a social media expert. Like the proverbial three-legged stool, using social media effectively means paying attention to three basic elements:
Before you set up profiles in every social network, think about your customers: who are they, what problems do they face, where do they hang out: are they on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace? If your customers are there, you need to be there. Before putting out content, though, think about what you want to communicate, and how you want to communicate. Your message and style must be consistent with your brand, and with the way you communicate offline.
Learn the nuances, idiosyncrasies and etiquette of each social media platform. Social networks are not sales tools as much as they are relationship building tools. Using social media to aggressively sell products is not effective. Instead, focus on building your brand, being helpful and showing that you know your stuff .
Also, you don’t need to jump into every new social media platform. There are only so many hours in a day, and it is better to be an active participant in one or two networks than to just dabble in five or six. As Laura Roeder says, social media is not an area where you necessarily want to be cutting edge: sometimes the tried and true, older social networks are better because they gather a larger audience and more of your potential customers.
The real experts never lose sight of the big picture: social media are just a means to a bigger end. It is not a coincidence that Chris Brogan, one of the top names in the field, has chosen these words for the title of his homepage: Beyond Social Media: Learn How Human Business Works.
The end goal should be to help people and build community (which is also a great way to build a business). Focusing on people and solving their problems is a more sustainable business strategy than just showing them the mechanical aspects of how to use the tools.
As Adam Singer explains in his popular blog The Future Buzz, social media is not new. Just as it would be ridiculous to build a business around showing people how to dial a phone, social media is soon going to become second nature (it already is for Millenials). The challenge we face now is not how to set up a Twitter or Facebook profile, but how do we use the leverage that social media gives us to build value and help people.