The explosion of articles, initial case studies, and usage statistics appearing in traditional media publications and conferences and the awareness and potential impact of social networks such as Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and Twitter has been growing within marketing circles and corporate boardrooms.
The awareness of the new realities of how consumers interact with brands is permeating conversations at companies large and small. With many brands, getting involved in direct-with-consumer (DWC) interactions online is no longer an area to be explored or questioned, but is something they must actively seek to participate in or suffer competitive disadvantages.
The social web is a reality and learning how to incorporate the new landscape is a priority.
If you haven’t already dipped your toes into the conversation, 2009 is the year to do it. While there are potential pitfalls to be aware of, taking simple and actionable steps to get involved and educate yourself as a communicator can help lay the broader framework and mitigate any negative consequences from jumping in head first without a solid strategy and framework.
Nine easy ways to integrate with and participate in the social web:
- Start by thinking of yourself as a person, not a brand, and look for things you are interested in, be they business or personal. Do searches for your interests and see what communities and conversations are already happening. Start participating, reading, learning, and interacting as a real individual, not a corporation. Go broad and deep and you’ll soon see how the different communities interact with each other, and how you can integrate and contribute.
- Listen to the conversation already occurring: set up Google Blog Alerts & Technorati alerts for your name/ company/ brand/ interests and monitor what people are saying. Don’t feel you need to jump into the discussion, just listen, learn, and gather insights.
- If you aren’t on Facebook already (horrors!) join now and learn the dynamics of how the platform works. Don’t sign up for every app out there, but do check your friends profiles and see what they are up to and find interesting. Check out the alert and privacy settings Facebook offers and familiarize yourself with how people actually use the service. If you’re already on Facebook, consider cleaning up your profile and thinning out the “junk” that has accumulated there: it will be a better experience, I guarantee it.
- For any professional, a ‘must do’ is to join LinkedIn. Start by setting up your profile and adding connections and then venture into reading and potentially offering your expertise by asking and answering questions.
- Set up a list of top quality blogs to follow in an RSS reader and as you explore the blogs you find to be high-value, start looking at their blog rolls and add new voices to your own selection as you see fit. You may want to cap your subscriptions to 30-50 to begin with or you may start to feel overwhelmed. But just as you don’t need to read every article in the Globe & Mail, you also don’t need to read every thing that a blogger posts – just what interests you.
- Jump into the conversation on the blogs you follow. The blogger will thank you, and you’ll get another exposure to the dynamics of conversations online. Ask questions, challenge assumptions, share your insights, and enjoy the experience of open collaboration. Don’t feel pressured to set up your own blog; while it can be enormously useful to your “personal brand” it also requires a strategy and a level of commitment you may not have currently. Blogging is one of the most mature areas of social media and if you don’t have one already, learn from the people in the trenches and be realistic before venturing into publishing yourself. The easiest way to get over-whelmed or discouraged is to bite off more than you can chew at the outset.
- Ask your employees and partners what social tools they use and what value they get from them. What better way to learn and discover new channels then to ask the people already using them what they think and how they participate? Chances are the person sitting in the office or cubicle next to you is already using social networks – don’t feel you need to start from scratch or wade in blindly!
- Start looking at your company and how the social web could/ does impact your business. Investigate things like:
a) if your customers are using social channels;
b) what areas of your company the online conversation impacts;
c) what your internal resources, assets, and challenges are – be they tech, customer service, products, communications, etc.;
d) who in your company is already using social tools for internal or external purposes (hint: IM is a social tool);
e) what the over-arching sentiment is towards your brand;
f) how social insight could inform your communications and product development, etc. etc.
- Set realistic objectives and make sure you are getting solid and sustainable advice, not just fashionable advice. Not every shiny new tool will work for you, and just as with anything in marketing, the tactics flow from the strategy, which flows from the objectives. The number one rule of the social web is that you only get out what you put in – if what you put in is broadcast advertising vs. value contributions the community will let you know.
The 10th and most important is to have fun. The social web is there for you to use, explore and contribute to. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, you’re doing it wrong!
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