3 Steps to Engaging in Social Media

You’ve listened to the talking heads and read the articles. Social media is here to stay and if you don’t jump in now you might get left behind. However, if you didn’t grow up IMing (that’s instant messaging) or creating MySpace profiles, the world of social media can seem quite daunting. Which brings us to the question, where do you begin? Before you grab the nearest 20-something and tell them to get on Twitter there are a few steps you should take first.

Step 1: Listen
It sounds simple enough, but many people rush into social media without taking the time to familiarize themselves with the space. If you and your company are new to social media the first thing you should do is monitor what’s being said about your company and industry.

One of the simplest ways to do this is by setting up Google Alerts. Google Alerts allow anyone with an e-mail address to receive an automated keyword search of recent news stories and blog posts. For example, if you work for Midwest Airlines you may want to set up Google Alerts for “Midwest Airlines” and “Milwaukee airlines.”

Other tools you can use to monitor social media include:

  • Search.twitter.com — This search engine shows you what people are saying on Twitter in real time.
  • Technorati.com — Use Technorati to do in depth blog searches and find out which blogs are the most influential in your field.
  • Facebook — If anyone in your company has a Facebook profile they can easily search for people, pages, groups and events related to your company. A quick search for Midwest Airlines came up with three pages of information.

Step 2: Develop a plan
Once you’ve taken the time to monitor or listen to online conversations you are ready to develop a plan of action. (Note: This does not mean you can stop listening!) Throughout step one you have probably noticed that people are talking about your company and industry in more places than others. These are the communities you want to make sure you are a part of.

When developing your plan, identify your goal for engaging in social media. That is, what are you hoping to accomplish? Then, make sure it’s clear who is responsible for which tasks and what is expected of them. In many cases you will need to participate in your social network several times a day to make it successful.

Another helpful tip is it’s better to be involved in one social network and do it really well than be involved in several and execute them poorly. Don’t sign-up for more than you can handle! You can always add more social networks. Try starting with one or two.

Step 3: Join the community
Now that you’re actively listening and have developed a plan you are ready to join the online community. As you engage in conversations make sure you think before you post. As they say, Google is forever. If you are slightly uneasy about saying something online it’s probably best not to say it at all. Also, do not use your social networks for the sole purpose of pushing out marketing messages. If you engage in the hard sell people will quickly tune you out. Make sure you are providing value to your online community, whether it’s by sharing useful links, answering questions or providing a service.

Are you still hesitant? B+L can help you begin the listening and planning process.