Being a small start-up business just entering the market, I realized I needed to step up my game and get actively involved in communities and the social media arena. I've also discovered there's a wealth of online information for start-ups — business development, intellectual property, business plans, best business practices and so on. I've immersed myself thoroughly in the past few months. To say the least, it's been an overwhelming experience with a bombardment of information overload. I'm now at the stage where I can discern what's valuable information vs. hype and clear out the noise and clutter. My take away thusfar:
The playing field is flat
Whether you're new to communities and the social media world or recently started blogging/microblogging, the playing field is flat. You may not be the Chris Brogan, Jeremiah Owyang, Seth Godin, Gerald Weber or Guy Kawasaki's of the blogsphere (who I all highly recommend you follow), but you do have a "voice." You'll also discover there's a boat load of people willing to help...just be smart about it and use common sense.
Where do I begin?
Whether your goal is to market yourself, a product, service or company (in other words, what's your underlying objective?) — it helps to follow subject-matter experts. They provide invaluable information that can save you precious time and unnecessary headaches. So how do you find them?
- Join groups, communities and affiliations: For me, LinkedIn.com is an absolute must since it gives you an opportunity to connect with people within your industry and outside your industry. LinkedIn not only allows you to link up with colleagues, but it also extends your reach by joining groups where you'd otherwise never have the opportunity. Here are a couple of useful links that will guide you through LinkedIn: CEO of LinkedIn.com gives you tips on how to use LinkedIn - CNN Video and my favorite LinkedIn Best Practices For Business.
Rule of thumb: Conduct all your communications in a professional manner. Remember, this is a business community. Build your credibility by your postings and even your comments. If people are intrigued or enlightened, believe me...they will check your profile. Some beneficial connection may even result from it.
- Open a Twitter account: You may ask, "Why do I need to bother?" or "What's the value for me?" As more and more companies are realizing the value of Twitter, it's being utilized as channel for customer relationship management, recruitment, marketing and advertising. It also helps you to find subject-matter experts. I highly recommend reading The Ultimate Guide for Everything Twitter. It also includes best practices on Twitter which is extremely helpful for those new to Twitter.
Rule of thumb: Always be professional, it's also okay to be personable, be selective who you follow...remember the same goes for the online world as in real life, you are the company you keep. Post things you feel would interest and help your followers. And lastly, be real.
- Facebook: I still have my reservations utilizing Facebook as a way to establish business connections or leads. I prefer keeping my personal connections exactly as it states...personal. I limit it to friends, family and a few colleagues. However, with that said, it is beneficial for businesses and companies to build brand awareness, create traction and really engage an audience within Facebook. Here's a great example on how Adobe engaged an elusive target audience with an innovative social media experience, "Case study: A Facebook campaign that connected."
Rule of thumb: It's really up to you and your comfort level on how you want to engage within Facebook. Depending on your business, you may want to utilize a widget that posts to all your social sites and blogs or you may want to keep Facebook as just a personal tool. You may want to have 2 accounts...one personal and one for business. There's really no "one size fits all" answer. Just be cognoscente of who your audience are within each given network and be very selective who you let in. Again, just be smart about it and use common sense.
Okay, so now what?
So you've done everything – joined LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and even other communities within your industry. So now what? You've got a few more followers but no real connections.
Personally for me, I felt like that after a few months. I started feeling the whole social media stuff was really (un)social. Once I mistakenly reposted the same tweet a handful of times, then realized I should take a different approach. I even met up with some questionable characters who I won't mention (or really not worth mentioning). It's amazing how varied the responses you get depending on what community or social media channel you use. Only recently I've started to feel like I'm actually seeing results. Some of my connections actually came from recommendations I read on postings and various blogs. Ableit not a direct connection, but helpful nonetheless. And a handful have introduced me to some business partnerships. My advice to you is to be patient and your persistency will pay off! Celebrate every baby step you make...don't underestimate yourself!!
Now for all you up and coming success stories, I've listed below other helpful resources that I hope you find useful and refer back to from time to time. I'll update this list periodically as I find other gems to share:
The Smart Way to Tap Social Media
Social Media Mistakes Businesses Should Avoid
The Top 50 Blogs for Startups In 2009
100 Terrific Twitter Feeds for Young Entrepreneurs
65 Indispensable Websites for Business Owners
Bottom line: What's your objective? Develop a strategy. Research, research research. Then just do it! Experiment and see what works and doesn't work. We're always learning. And remember, "The quality of engagement is equally, if not sometimes more, as important than quantity."
I'll continue to touch base and share my discoveries along the way. Please feel free to comment, share additional resources or drop me a line! Enjoy!