10 Ways to Succeed in Social Media

10 Ways to Succeed in Social Media
by Bob Cargill
This 2,700-word post was initially published as a series of individual posts on Bob Cargill’s blog, A New Marketing Commentator, between January 13-April 5, 2010.
Now that so many businesses are using blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media channels to connect with their constituents, it’s only a matter of time before they realize what a challenge it is to use them successfully.No, social media isn’t rocket science. But it’s definitely a BIG departure for those who have been dependent on traditional marketing, advertising, PR and corporate communications methods up until now.So to help educate and enlighten those who are about to use this relatively new means of engagement for the first time, here’s a list of 10 ways to succeed in social media…

1. Adopt the right company culture.

I hate to disappoint you, but not every organization is cut out for social media. To those who are accustomed to privacy and top-down, one-way, interruptive communications, it requires nothing short of a transformative change from the inside out.

The truth is that those who are most successful on the grid are more than willing to share their institutional knowledge, comfortable in their own corporate skins and not afraid to reveal their personalities. They have no secrets. They have no fears. They’re open and transparent, genuine and authentic, honest almost to a fault.

Yes, businesses that get social media have no problem whatsoever with inclusive, informal dialogue. They encourage entrepreneurialism, welcome competition and frown upon micro-management. They know that to succeed in social media means to worry a lot less about control and much more about support and empowerment of their friends, fans and followers.

2. Set realistic expectations.

Using social media to communicate with others isn’t that difficult. But if you expect your posts, tweets, status updates and videos to result in any new leads or business opportunities, you had better be more than a little patient and perseverant.

As I’ve written before (The Importance of Getting Past the Social Media “Dip”)…

…social media shouldn’t ever be looked at as a fast track or short cut to success.  Mastering social media requires a long-term, strategic investment that needs to be looked at as part and parcel of almost everything else you do as an organization, not as a quick fix or panacea for an inability to find common ground with your constituency in the first place.

Don’t disappoint yourself. Be realistic with your expectations. To put together an effective social media program, you need to be as prolific as you are informed, as personable as you are inspirational, capable of producing a stream of original content on a steady, uninterrupted basis that your constituents will find not just interesting, but worth their valuable time.

The fact is that the most successful practitioners in this space are specialists, authorities and knowledge leaders, people who are renowned for their expertise wherever they go.

Are you one of those people? Does your organization have folks like that at its disposal? If so, then you have every reason to believe that your social media efforts will bear fruit.

3. Create enough quality content.

One of the most common mistakes I see people and businesses make in social media is jumping into it without having anywhere near enough original, quality content to stay in it for the long haul. Either they underestimate just how critical it is to be able to offer news, information and opinion for an indefinite period of time or they simply don’t care about being fully engaged.

Whatever the case, these folks invariably run short of content and ultimately have no idea what to say anymore. So relationships are interrupted. Momentum is lost. And their constituents are left wondering why the “brand” they look up to is suddenly so silent in social media.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Before dipping your toes in the social media waters, it behooves you to have an arsenal of content ready and waiting for launch. But you also need to be prepared to create and share (sometimes on the fly) an endless stream of new content – blog posts, human interest stories, opinion pieces, instructional videos, status updates, etc. – via such social media channels as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the like.

Social media is a labor of love, an inexhaustible work in progress, something you do day in and day out, not only when it’s convenient for you.

Social media is not a commitment to be taken lightly. It’s a serious, long-term obligation you have to your friends, fans and followers – both your internal and external stakeholders – from the get-go. So don’t go into it prematurely.

4. Stand for your brand.

As much as you need to be yourself in social media, it’s even more important to be a positive, well-suited reflection of the organization you represent.

So before you blog, tweet or record that YouTube video, take pause and ask yourself if you’re actually capable of embodying the very best characteristics associated with your brand. Even if you’re your own boss, you may find it more than just a little challenging to come across as a trustworthy, authoritative and engaging spokesperson.

The truth is that some of the most successful social media practitioners are those with extraordinarily good people skills. They’re evangelists, diplomats and envoys, folks who live and breathe the topics and issues bandied about among their respective business circles. Their strong sense of corporate identify is eclipsed only by their personal character and integrity. In the best interests of their constituents as much as their employers and clients, they say what they mean and mean what they say. They’re natural brand ambassadors.

Does that describe you or anyone on your payroll?

5. Work as a team.

While most social media programs have a single champion at the helm, the best among them have a crew to provide support.

Never mind the extraordinary demands of the job on almost a 24/7/365 basis. From project management to PR, customer service to marketing, creative to analytics, there are simply too many different skills required for one person alone to be successful on the grid on behalf of a big brand.

As I’ve written before (Social Media is a Team Sport, Not a Solo Act)…

An exceptional writer with a strong body of knowledge, a charismatic personality and a boatload of enthusiasm can make a huge social splash – don’t get me wrong. But to sustain an effective strategy for an indefinite period of time requires the input and output of a collaborative, cross-functional group, a small team of people with complementary skills who can tag-team the initiative.

If you’re faced with budget constraints or a shortage of talent, that’s one thing. But if you’re serious about social media, you’re going to want a handful of professionals working the beat – strategizing, scheduling, listening, responding, creating, engaging, measuring, you name it. One way or another, you’re going to want to work as a team.

6. Leverage a number of channels.

It’s one thing to tweet a few times a week, write a blog post once a month and update your profile on LinkedIn if you happen to land a new job. But it’s quite another to be active on a handful of social media channels on a daily basis.

That’s right, the most accomplished social media mavens don’t occasionally go online. They practically live online.

Instead of checking email and voice mail, they’re responding to a steady, endless stream of comments, questions and requests from their friends, fans and followers.

Instead of sitting in meetings all day, they’re sitting in front of a variety of screens, tap, tap, tapping away in the name of meaningful engagement with their constituencies.

Instead of working nine to five, they’re on call morning, noon and night, whenever they’re near their Blackberries, iPhones, laptops and notebooks.

But it’s not just a matter of putting in all this time. To succeed in social media means to be active in more places than one.

Are you writing a new blog post at least once a week? Are you using Facebook for both personal and professional reasons? On LinkedIn, are you writing recommendations of others, sharing your presentations and participating in groups? Are you logging on to Twitter at least several times a day? Do you have your own YouTube channel? How about FriendFeed, Delicious, Google Reader and Buzz?

Sure, for a number of reasons – time and talent, chief among them – not every social media channel is for everyone. But let’s face it, if you’re only using one or two of them, you’re barely scratching the surface.

7. Overcome the social media “dip.”

A common mistake made by many business folks is to think that social media will be an instant cure for what ails their traditional marketing activities. And while in many cases it can and will have an overwhelmingly positive effect on an organization’s ability to connect with its constituency, it’s not a panacea for an inferior product, poor PR, inept communications or a lackluster brand.

The truth is that it’s a long and winding road to social media success. And as anyone who’s been blogging, tweeting and the like for a long time knows, it’s often an uphill climb, too.

But if you can tough it out – listening, creating, engaging and opening up to others – for an indefinite period of time, making sure that social media is part and parcel of everything you do in business, not a silo, then the odds are pretty good that you’ll be a hit on the grid.

As I’ve written before (The Importance of Getting Past the Social Media “Dip”)…

If you ask me, the key to being successful with social media is patience, perseverance and pushing past the so-called “Dip,” a difficult stretch of time (invariably the beginning) when the going can be tough and the rewards may appear few.

The Dip, of course, is the title of one of Seth Godin’s many best-selling books. On the front flap of the book, the “Dip” is referred to as “a temporary setback that you will overcome if you keep pushing.”

But the definition of the “Dip” I like best is written on page 17 of the book, where Seth describes it as “the long slog between starting and mastery.” My experience tells me that that’s just the juncture, too, where almost everyone involved in social media gets caught up in the “Dip,” where people – and brands – have to decide for themselves whether their seemingly Herculean efforts are worth it.

8. Educate others more than you promote yourself.

A big mistake many organizations make is to use social media the way they use traditional marketing vehicles such as direct mail, email, print and broadcast. Instead of listening to their constituents, they’re tooting their own horns and focusing on ROI. They’re doing everything they can to force one-way, top-down, interruptive marketing messages into channels that were built for permission-based dialogue that doesn’t necessarily conform to a preconceived agenda.

What they’re doing is like trying to place a square peg into a round hole. Their efforts are futile.

But that’s not to say you can’t generate leads and sales in social media. In fact, if you conduct yourself appropriately in these spaces and places, chances are your efforts will result in a multitude of new business opportunities.

Use the blogosphere, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other such properties to share not only your knowledge and expertise, but also a little about who you are as a person and a lot about the industry in which you earn your livelihood.

Create as much valuable content as possible and then give it away for free.

Become a publishing machine, a brand that’s much more informative, supportive and educational than promotional.

Put the good word out about your products and services, but do so because you want to help others, not because you’re in it for a buck.

In social media, the more you open up to others as a fellow human being, the more they’ll get to know you as someone they can confide in, look up to and trust. The more they’ll want to do business with you and your organization.

9. Measure the results of your activities.

If you’re serious about using social media, not just in it for fun, then you need to measure the results of your online activities so you know where you stand.

If you publish a blog, you can use such tools as Technorati to see how it compares to others in your industry or Google Analytics to find out which posts people are reading, where they’re coming from and how long they’re staying on your site.

But that’s not all you want to analyze. You also want to look at how many readers are subscribing to your blog, how many comments you’re receiving, how many other blogs are linking back to yours and how often it’s turning up in search engine results.

And that’s just for starters. Ideally, a blog should lead to a multitude of new business opportunities – including speaking engagements, PR, WOM, leads and sales – all of which you want to monitor, qualify and quantify.

On Twitter, of course, it’s great to have a lot of followers, but how many of them are retweeting you or actually engaging with you? Are you being included on a lot of lists? Are you using bit.ly or another URL shortening tool to track the number of people who actually click through your links? Have others featured you in their Follow Friday tweets?

Among the many tools you can use to assess your performance on Twitter are Twitter Grader, TweetLevel, TweetStats, TwitGraph and TweetMeme.

Facebook, of course, provides some interesting demographic information to page owners about their fans, not to mention data such as number of “likes,” “wall posts,” “comments” and “visits.” You also want to observe – and respond to – what fans write on your page; that’s an obvious way to manage and monitor your brand’s reputation.

It’s easy to count your connections – or members of any groups you manage – on LinkedIn as well as how many times they interact with you.

And on YouTube, you can track how many times your videos have been viewed, how many subscribers you have to your channel, friends, ratings, comments and more.

And that’s just scratching the surface. There’s an infinite number of metrics you can monitor in social media, both quantitative and qualitative, all of which you should look at carefully if you want to succeed. And there are many good social media monitoring tools — such as Radian6, Trackur, Cision and Scout Labs just to name four — you can use to do the job for you.

10. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Your success in social media may be dependent in large measure on what you have to share with others, but how you come across – your online persona – is also very important.

Whether you’re on Facebook or YouTube, tweeting or blogging, you need to be as affable as you are knowledgeable, as charismatic as you are smart. You need to lighten up.

Sure, many of the most effective social media practitioners are opinionated and authoritative, natural born leaders at the top of their fields. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find that they’re also easygoing and deferential, not afraid to share some of their personal lives with their professional peers. They’re approachable and responsive, people who are comfortable having impromptu, informal conversations with a diverse range of constituents.

As I’ve said before (Blog Post on Video: The Three A’s of Social Media Branding)…

Skills alone will only get you so far in social media. You need to humanize your brand identity. Those who are most popular in social media are those who have the best bedside manners, the most engaging personalities.  They are amiable and congenial, generous and kind, people who are as good at listening as they are teaching, as humble and humorous as they are confident in their abilities.

Yes, when all is said and done, social media won’t work very well for the aloof or the arrogant, those who play their hands close to the vest and can’t crack a smile. Social media works best for those who take their work, not themselves, seriously.

About the Author
Bob Cargill is a copywriter, creative director and social media marketer who helps brands to strategize, develop and implement successful new marketing programs.

Bob, who was named the New England Direct Marketing Association’s “Direct Marketer of the Year” for 2009, is known for his expertise as a direct marketing practitioner as well as his evangelism on behalf of blogs and other social media communications tools. Having labored in the marketing trenches since 1983, his work has been recognized with more than 40 awards (including Gold for his blog, A New Marketing Commentator, Silver for Best Copywriting and Gold for Best Tweets from the New England Direct Marketing Association).

Bob has presented many times at industry events and has been published or quoted on the subjects of copywriting, direct marketing, blogging and social media in numerous media outlets. Bob is a Past President of the New England Direct Marketing Association and a graduate of the MetroWest Leadership Academy. You are invited to read Bob’s blog at http://www.anewmarketingcommentator.com, see him on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/bobcargill, follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/cargillcreative and check out his updates on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/cargillcreative.

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