5 tips to make social media work for you

Social Media Advice I Wish I Had From the Start
The decision to undertake a PhD in social media was an easy one for me. At that time I wasn’t so interested in the actual social media part but the consumer voice that was amplified through social media. We are going back a bit in social media terms; business was right on the cusp of integrating social media into business practices. I guess my interest with social media grew as I grew as a researcher and social media became the phenomenon it is today.

I’m very proud of what I have achieved and the knowledge and experience I have gained from studying such a new phenomenon. We hear about the ensuing paradigm change social media has facilitated but not many know what this actually means. For the sake of sitting my thesis defence early next year, I hope I get it. I’m quietly confident that I do but I’m not going to shout about that just yet.

While I’m happy and all there is some advice I would give myself if I could start over.
It’s not to do with the PhD as such but more about the way I experienced and used social media. If you’re starting out on social or have already dipped a toe in the water, I hope this advice may be of some use to you. I sure wish I had done this from the start.

1. Get to Know Where Your Customers Hang Out

I add this one into the list first. I don’t really have customers in the sense that I am selling something [yet] but I want to know the places where they would hang out. We all know from business studies that strategy is important. Well this is the first step to an effective social media strategy. There are hundreds of different social media platforms, you can’t effectively man them all, so where are your customers?

We all think of the BIG 4 first – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. Social media is much more than that! Niche networks are growing and you generally find the most interesting topics and influencers in smaller communities on the peripheral. You need to do a bit of research, filter the noise on the internet, and find out where people have conversations about your industry. This does not specially mean your brand (it is good to know this too) but the industry you operate in. There are various filtering software service available some free and some with a hefty price tag. Gordon MacIntyre Kemp gives a run-down of his favourites on The Drum blog, click here to see the line-up.

2. Get to Know the Social Media Platforms Individually

This is something I done, a lot. I don’t use every social media platform but I know an awful lot about them. No two social media are identical. The fundamental nature behind them is the same, to connect, share and discuss [build a relationship] but there are idiosyncrasies in the way the individual media do this.

You need to get to know the media, what makes it different from the others? The terminology of the media, I hate to see people getting PM from Facebook mixed up with DM from Twitter. Your customers will know the terminology, you need to too. Explore the behaviours of users, what are they doing when they are on that media? What are they looking for? What is attention grabbing? How do they communicate? I could go on here but I think you get where I am going. We call this lurking, it has a place, many individuals will lurk on social media before they participate too.

Also look at the terms and conditions of the media. For instance, did you know that when you sign up to LinkedIn you agree to use a photo of yourself? And don’t get me started with the Facebook rules for competitions.

I think that this is important too, the length of time your posts are likely to be visible in the feed. For instance, when you post in Twitter the post is visible for less time than in the feed of Facebook, and this again changes if you are using some of the older forums. There is evidence to suggest that many people just check their news feeds to keep up to date with what is going on. In other words they do not view social profiles often but keep up to date through your posts in their newsfeed, this is especially true for brands (please accept my apologies, I have misplaced the link to this).

3. Join in Conversations
This is a biggie. I think I lurked on many social media too much before I started to participate. I done this for a reason because I wanted to have my own opinions of social media and not follow ‘the norm’ because everyone else thinks it is that way. For me, in my situation, this is important. I am studying something that generally has not been studied extensively, we are all still learning, I wanted to shape my thoughts and contributions without the sway of the big influencers in social media.

You may be slightly different. I appreciate others opinions on social media and the fact that social media is bespoke to our needs and the way we use it. You need to appreciate this too.
To get back to point, join in the conversation. Introduce yourself and offer up your opinions and experiences. People will respond to you. This can lift your mood. I remember getting my first Twitter followers and having great conversations with them. If you are an individual and not a brand, I think of this engagement as getting a hug. It sounds silly until you look into the psychology behind it.

You build relationships by communicating. I’ve also met many of my virtual friends in the real world too and met more contacts through them. That is me, as an individual, and not a brand, it’s slightly different for brands. Brands benefit from communicating and being open and accessible to consumers. However many consumers still friend brands because they are looking for competitions and discounts, please bare this in mind.

4. Change and Adapt if Social Media is Not Working for You
This is important. Just because your competitors are everywhere does not mean that you need to be. If you explore where your customers hang out instead of where your competitors are you will be starting off properly. I have interviewed many companies about their social media strategy and the most common answer is: ‘we do social media because our competitors are’.

Wow. Do you do everything your competitors are doing or do you strategically run your own brand?
If something is not working do not be scared to change it. Social media is not free, that is a big lie. Social media is time intensive and it is also an exploratory mission. You need the right tool, people and time to make the mission work. You cannot copy competitors, social media is bespoke. You need to have a voice, personality and objectives to make it work.
However I must warn, you will not be an overnight success. Everything good takes time to build, social media is no different. Give it time but if you see no return in one avenue, go back to step one and find out where the value is hiding.

5. Continually Filter, Listen and Learn
I think I done too much of this before dipping my toe in the social media waters. I’m a researcher so I naturally do this. Social media is ever evolving and it becomes bigger and better with every interaction. Not just your interactions but participation on a global level. The world of social media is not static, social media is almost like a living organism growing with participation and interactions. Each time an individual adds a post or comments, or pretty much does anything social media grows and the information that can be attained grows.

We need to know what these changes are, and view the new technologies and media that are also constantly evolving. It is said we live in an information society, which is true. We just need to filer the information that is relevant to us or our businesses, and listen to what others have to say. No more broadcast. It’s time to interact and learn as we do so.
I hope this has been useful. I think I done too much planning before I went out. I was also hesitant to interact in some of the communities for fear of getting burned. Having now been burned (I wrote a piece on why the Google+ real names policy is not that bad, I didn’t go down too well in the Sates) I can say that it’s not that bad. A change from the hug I mentioned before to a punch in the face but it was an opinion piece, and I said my opinion. I may be trying to break the ‘norm’ where you will be trying to interact and build business relationships, so don’t worry about being burned. Generally people are welcoming into new communities.

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