I spend a fair amount of my time these days sharing the good news about social media and what it can mean for individuals and organizations. In these economic times, social networking and web 2.0 are more critical than ever – both for employees who need to be prepared for any possibility, and for businesses who need to do more marketing with less money.
These conversations usually start with people asking about specific tools – LinkedIn or Twitter, for example. Once I’ve got the individual or group comfortable with one social site, they are usually eager to learn about others. And in teaching social media best practices over and over, using multiple sites and communities as examples, it occurred to me that there are certain themes or guidelines which apply across the board.
Here are my four social media fundamentals for any and all social networking sites. Keep these principles in mind and you’ll be ready to explore whatever new web 2.0 wonder comes our way.
1. Profile. No matter which social networking site you’re on, or even if you someday join communities that haven’t been invented yet, you’ll need to set up a profile. Be as complete as you can be here – include more than your name and what you do for a living. List your purpose and passions. Be professional, yet also memorable. Positively represent your personal brand as well as your company or industry. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t know you yet – maybe even someone who’s interviewing you. Why would I want to read your blog, add you as a friend or contact, hire you or come back to your page or profile again to see what you have to say? Your profile should do all this in as few words as possible. In a nutshell: make me care.
2. Content. Another common denominator across social networks is the need for creative, interesting and distinctive content. Think of it as the meat (or hummus, for you vegetarians and vegans out there) in the social media sandwich. Whether you’re creating and uploading unique content such as a blog or video post - or tagging and sharing content such as articles or links - you need to have a voice. You must have something to say and an interesting way in which to say it. Find a way to share or do something in a way that has never been done before – on Delicious, for example, save only the best and most useful blog posts and article links in your particular field of expertise – and you’ll have content that keeps people coming back for more.
3. Contacts. On Facebook we’re called friends, on Twitter we’re followers and on Plurk we’re fans. Regardless of the socnet in question, our contacts put the social in social media. Let’s face it, all this would be pretty lonely and boring without other like-minded – or even better, different-minded – souls with whom to share it. But be smart about how much and with whom you’re sharing. Whether on LinkedIn, Plaxo or Myspace, don’t just add contacts for the sake of adding. Be strategic and sensible about your connections. Are these people you’d like to get together with over coffee, tea, beer or wine in ”real life”? If not, ask yourself why you’re collecting them. It’s smart to have a strong, diverse professional network, but adding random strangers can backfire. Do a little checking before you blindly add contacts, or you could end up getting spammed or worse – seeing your friends get spammed and knowing it’s your fault.
4. Search. How do you find new, relevant contacts on all of these sites? How do you find the latest articles in your niche or industry? How do you figure out whether you, your brand or your company are being talked about in the social network du jour? Easy – accomplish all of the above by doing keyword searches. These searches vary from site to site, but there’s a common theme: you can strike gold if you search just right. Figure out your search terms – your name, your brand, your company or organization, industry terms, your interests, hobbies, area of specialization, or even types of people you want to meet (e.g., journalists or reporters). The key is knowing where to search – on most sites you use the search form right there on the site, but Twitter is a little tricky – you search on a different site.
With a good grasp on these four fundamentals, you can make yourself at home on a myriad of social sites. Their purpose and functionality may differ from here, but knowing how to embrace these basics will give you a good starting point.
What have I missed – are there other commonalities that social media beginners should keep in mind?
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