Establishing a Social Media Presence Today

Tony Eldridge

Some people embrace social networking with a passion and are willing to dive into the unknown and run with the possibilities that await them. For others, establishing a social networking presence is intimidating and daunting. For every great reason given for jumping into the online world, there are excuses that warn of privacy and security issues. The bottom line, however, draws a simple conclusion: having a social networking presence for your business or your professional persona is a necessity in 2012.  So let's discuss what social networking is, why it's important, and how you can take steps toward bringing yourself up to date on this amazing marketing tool.

Defining Social Networking

There are a lot of ways you can define social networking. Some definitions focus on human interaction while others take a more technical approach. Before computers, social networking involved joining yourself to various communities like the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, or your specific trade associations. Attending meetings, speaking at events, and writing for their newsletters were great ways to build your own network. Then, as technology advanced, social networking was brought from the offline world into the electronic age. Now, individuals and businesses can connect with the like-minded from all over the world, 24/7, without leaving their homes or offices. As technology continued to develop, enhancements like audio, photos, and video has created a rich experience for businesses, professionals, and customers.

In its simple essence, social networking is tapping into an association of like-minded people to share ideas and expand your sphere of influence. Sites like Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, and YouTube have created communities and sub communities that any professional, business, or consumer can use to connect with others interested in their common bond.

Transitioning from the offline world to the online world can be a stressful process for many. There are "unwritten" rules for each social networking site that are different from what we do offline, and rules that vary from one site to another. For example, offline we engage in advertising messages to connect to our prospects. Through online social networking communities, we engage in building relationships and a community first. If we set up a social networking site and immediately start to advertise, we will close many doors of opportunity before we have a chance to go through them.

Building relationships and communities involves inserting yourself into online discussions and interacting with the individuals in the community. In fact, a great way to establish yourself as an expert is to become a source of information to your online communities. If someone asks for advice, jump in and give yours. If someone wants to know how to do something, write a tutorial or record a video that shows them how to do it. The more you contribute to these communities, the more people will see you as an expert. Then, after creating that relationship, people will be more inclined to listen to your marketing or advertising message. Online, people reject unsolicited advertising but they listen to people they trust.

What makes social networking such a great opportunity for businesses and professionals is the ability to give value to people and become the go-to person in your community. When someone has a need for your services or products, you are the person they think of first because you have fostered a relationship with them. This is where the real power of social networking lies. If you keep putting off joining this online world, you give your competitors and colleagues a leg up.

Jumping Into Social Networking

Establishing a social media presence is fairly simple and can be free to do. Of course, there are companies that will do all the work for a small fee. These professionals can be worth their weight in gold because they know how to set up the site, can enhance it for your business, and can have you up and running with a professional looking site in no time. However, you can start your own Twitter account, Facebook page, or Linked-In profile in a few minutes at no cost to you. While this article is not intended to be a detailed, step-by-step tutorial on how to set up your online social networking presence, it will give you a few tips to consider.

  1. Make it visually pleasing- When you set up your social networking pages, make sure you upload your photo and work with the layout to create a clean, visually crisp profile. Incorporate your business's logo and colors. Don't cram too much text onto the page and write in short, easy to read sentences or bullets.
  2. Create a hub for your online presence- One of the biggest mistakes people make when setting up online social networking sites is creating the profiles with no master plan. If you have a website, a blog, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page, you will have 4 sites you'll have to update and monitor. With a little planning, you can create a hub to be the center of your online presence and have all information flowing into it. For example, you can set up a blog as your hub. When you create a new post, you can have it automatically update your Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-in sites to keep people in those networks informed. Conversely, when you publish your links on your social networking sites, you use the URL for your blog. This way, all of your online presences flow into a central place. Some professionals use Facebook as their hub while others use their web page. You just need to give it a little thought and design these sites to work with you to avoid creating a lot of extra busy work.
  3. Make it interactive- The one defining characteristic of online social networks is interactivity. Embrace this aspect of the sites and you will reap the benefits you are looking for. When you run across some great news that your followers can use, post it as a comment on your profile, tweet it, or "like" it. If someone makes a comment on your profile or asks a question, respond to it quickly. You can set up alerts to e-mail you when people comment on your sites, so you won't have to spend a lot of time popping in to see if anyone has said anything. The more communication you have on your site, the more effective it will be.
  4. Use it to enhance your professional and business needs-

Monitor communications about your company. If something is being said about your company, good or bad, chances are good you can find it on social networking sites.

Expand Your Visibility And Brand. Companies spend millions to increase their visibility via traditional media advertisement. Social networking sites are another way to spread your visibility far beyond your company's web site.
Increase Your Perception As An Expert. Depending on how you use social networking sites, you can easily set yourself up as an expert because of the great information you make available to followers. The viral nature of social networks will reward companies that give value to their followers.

Quickly Disseminate Information. This can be a blessing or a curse. There is no quicker way to get out information from your company than through social networking sites. However, the ease and speed to disseminate information often removes some of the safeguards of traditional communication methods. Often times, messages would be changed if the sender were forced to take time to consider  it and many typos/edits would be caught if people didn't fire posts off so quickly. A hasty message is often regretted, but impossible to totally recall.

Learn To Mobilize Your Social Networking Army

One of the most valuable skills you can develop as you enter the social networking arena is how to create and mobilize your own social networking army of passionate followers who will act as evangelists for your company, its products, and its services. In my book, Conducting Effective Twitter Contests, I speak at length on this point. With a little effort, you will be surprised at what you can accomplish. Here are some ideas on how to build your own social networking army.

First, be targeted on who you're looking to find as followers. Too many people get caught up in increasing their number of followers, neglecting to focus on finding the people who are most likely interested in their business. It's easy to spend a lot of time and money attracting the wrong people. Even though there are many out there who espouse casting a wide net and getting as many people as possible to follow you, it's much more rewarding professionally to have a larger number of people respond to your messages than it is to see your followers grow but never interact with you.

You will also want to reach out to the niche leaders in your industry. Every industry has them; people who run online boards, blogs, and groups devoted to the products you sell. If you sell coffee, you will find numerous groups who talk about their coffee passion. By reaching out to these people, you can find a way to get in front of their followers who are also people passionate about coffee. You can end up finding these targeted followers many times quicker than it would take you to find them on your own. Perhaps you can run a contest on their site where you give away your product to a winner or you invite the niche leader to be a guest author on your blog. However you choose to reach out to them, you can be assured that they will share your site with their followers.

Conversely, you can look for opportunities to submit guest posts to their blogs. Bloggers are actively looking for great content for their readers and when you step up and offer them great content, they will most likely be ecstatic. Just remember, you are not submitting a commercial to their site. You are submitting information that their readers can use. By doing this, you get in front of the eyes of many targeted followers and you will see your own army of followers increase.

You can also find ways to engage your own followers and increase the likelihood that they will be a strong member of your social networking army. Acknowledging their birthday, highlighting their business, or publicly thanking them for valuable input will go a long way in fostering raving fans. We all know that word-of-mouth is a powerful advertising force and this is a great way to encourage that word-of-mouth promotion.

You can also find ways to recognize people you want to get in front of as a means of introduction. For example, if you read a great post about coffee tasting, you can share the link to their post with your Twitter and Facebook followers. Once you do, send a direct message to the author telling her that you shared her post with your readers. Make sure you send her the link to your message because you'll want her to check it out, and hopefully, share the link with her followers. What a great way to get targeted eyes in front of your brand.

Warnings to Heed

It can be very tempting to start your new social networking life out by jumping in with both feet without knowing some important tips to remember. First, you will want to keep your personal and professional life separated online. Sure there is some benefit to sharing bits of personal information in order to make you more human, but it is a definite balancing act. For example, it might be perfectly fine to mention that today is your twins' sixth birthday, but you don't want to share your heartache and sorrow over your girlfriend who left you last night. It's easy to forget that people on the other side of your computer are real people too. You need to treat them like you would in a business setting. What would you share with an audience at a conference? That's a good guideline to use to determine what to share with your followers online.

You also want to steer clear from spamming your follower's sites with your marketing and advertising messages. That can be the quickest way to engender strife and create a bad online reputation. Most people love comments and communication on their profiles, but not if they believe you are taking advantage of them through your advertisements. Of course, you can always find a constructive and helpful way to weave your product into a comment, but do so with caution. Remember, you want to foster a vibrant and growing online community, be careful of activities that will do just the opposite.

You might be surprised at how many people make the mistake of not linking their social networking profiles to their business site, blog, or products. Remember to include links that people can use to learn more about you. Nothing is more frustrating to a prospect than to find an online guru they adore only to then have to work hard at locating their website or blog. Your online social networking sites are like breadcrumbs you drop leading to your hub. Make sure people can find you once they meet you.

Think about how you want people to communicate with you. Before you leave a cell phone number or an e-mail address, remember that there are harvesters who scour the net for contact information only to sell it to spammers. Many people have had to create new e-mail addresses because their primary one had been taken over by spam. Today, you can add a free online form to your site that hides your contact information. You can even use a free Google phone number that will forward calls to your primary line, thus hiding your primary number from scavengers.

The thing to remember about online social networking today is that people no longer ask you if you have a Facebook page or Twitter account. Instead, they ask, "What is your Twitter or Facebook ID?" They assume that your business will have a social networking page. Technology has made it easy for people to set up a social networking presence in minutes. And for those who are extreme technophobes, there are individuals and businesses that will do the hard work for you. Just remember to take it one step at a time. Before you know it, you'll have an army of fans eager to help you spread your professional messages.

//About the Author

Tony Eldridge is the author of the action/adventure book, The Samson Effect, that New York Times bestselling author Clive Cussler calls a "first rate thriller brimming with intrigue and adventure." He is also the author of the mystery thriller, The Lottery Ticket and the Twitter marketing book, Conducting Effective Twitter Contests which helps people find targeted Twitter followers. He also shares his book marketing tips with fellow authors through his blog, Marketing Tips For Authors.