Sunday, July 11, 2010

#144 - It's time to embrace social media for business - no more excuses!

Have you heard enough from your colleagues, kids, friends and the "talking heads" about the importance of social networking? Are you finally realizing that Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Search advertising (and much more) are here to stay? It's time to stop fighting the inevitable change and learn how to use this new media to your advantage, regardless of your current status. Whether you are a college student, stay-at-home mom, business professional, consultant, freelancer, company owner or employee, you still need to understand these new communication technologies and how they affect our world.

And, you're not alone.

Armed with the right tools and information, anyone can master the basics of social media for business and professional purposes. Relax. Start celebrating the sea change. With the right attitude, your use of social media can become your best professional asset and a source of prosperity and personal growth.

Certainly, social networking and Internet marketing have changed the ways we communicate, even how we conduct marketing and public relations. However, many businesses and owners are just now beginning to see that the social media train is already packed and it's departing the station - without many people on it. The new grad, professional, or entrepreneur who doesn't jump at the chance to start learning the new media landscape is destined to lose touch with valuable consumer bases and necessary tools for life in the coming years.

If you plan on working or being in business a decade from now, you've simply got to start drinking the Kool-Aid now.
If you're still reading, then you're already ahead of the game. You've taken those first steps toward embracing, harnessing, and ultimately, leveraging social media for personal and professional gain.

You can do this.
"All too often today, business owners are being lured in by what appears to be the simplicity of many social media sites. They jump in without any formal plan or strategy, never considering how or if this particular new media fits the company. Many flounder, start then stop, then start over with nothing. Or, they lose patience and simply give up too quickly which can do more harm than good for a brand."
Make no mistake - social media offers a variety of benefits for business owners, but it can also be an enormous time waster if it's not implemented with a specific strategy in place.

How to get started - successfully

Be realistic. Know who you're talking to and why. Put it down on paper. If you're an entrepreneur or consultant, this is simple. But if you are a player in a larger company, the person best suited to create, manage and monitor social media may not be you, your assistant, the marketing director or the CEO. Take a hard look at who within the organization is best qualified to speak directly to prospective and current customers about your services or products in clear, clean, simple language - as opposed to ''marketing speak."

Choose the right tool for the right job. Who makes up the audience you wish to engage with? What social media platforms do they use? To work well, social media requires participation, engagement, conversation and relationship-building. Visit the major sites - Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Squidoo, MySpace, FourSquare, related blogs, etc. Observe for yourself the types of content and activity in each venue and select no more than three to four sites or platforms that make sense for your audience (and your corporate culture).

Create a time line. Again, be realistic. As with anything new, you'll have to start slow and work social media into your existing routine. A simple way to move forward is by clocking off a set amount of time on the calendar, as much as an hour or as little as 10 minutes twice daily. Schedule and then dedicate this time to visiting social media sites and engaging in conversations. Just 15-30 minutes consistently is far better than blocking off a number of hours or days you may never actually have available. Next, establish this time as you would any healthy new day at a time, with commitment.
Give yourself permission to enjoy it. It genuinely helps to put your social media in its proper perspective. It's called "social" media for a reason. Think of a visit to your Facebook Page, responding to blog comments or reading your Twitter stream to be like attending a business networking event - like a cocktail hour - only this one never ends. It's "always on." Real social engagement works best when it's fun for everyone involved. Get to know the people behind the profiles and let others get to know you, your brand, the way your company works and cares. Talk to new people you enjoy conversing with. Share parts of your personality, and start new discussions with interesting people you actually want to know better. You'll be very surprised at how quickly you can build a following - and your business - but only if you plan first, listen second, and finally, engage consistently!

"The more things change, the more they stay the same

We've all heard the familiar adage. The bottom line is that nothing has changed about the way people view or select companies, products, brands or services. Everything you know about marketing, PR, promotions, events and sales still holds true - on some level - but if you continue business as usual, with only the traditional communications tools, the fact is the competition will continue to surpass you. Many will become dinosaurs. Relax. Only the medium has changed - not the message.

Ask and you shall receive!

Fortunately, there's still plenty of time to learn what you need to know about these new communications channels and how they can work for you, your company, your career, even your personal life. Start asking questions. What do you want to know right now about getting your social media strategy or campaign started? Ask away. This is as good a place as any. Comment below and I will respond privately or in my next post with some solid input, source materials, direction and answers (based on experience and training). If I don't know the answer, I'll admit that, too. Then, I'll find someone who does.

Like so much information online, this resource is free - use it!

Are you wondering how to start a Facebook Page, Group, Event, or Cause? Confused by Facebook's "Community Pages?" Think Twitter is useless or wonder why anyone really needs a blog? The answers are here if you're only willing to ask. Just think, by engaging with the dreaded "social media," this blog, you can (proactively) find answers you need.

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