5 Tips to get started in social media for your business

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As social media matures, more businesses are looking to social networks as a way to engage with and understand their customers. As long as you are part of the conversation, you can hear what is being said about your brand on the social web, but with social networks emerging so rapidly, where do you begin? Here are 5 tips to get you started…

Create a strategy. “Without a strategy, you’ll undoubtedly be sucked into a social media time sink,” Nick Shin, a contributor for Social Media Examiner, said. Social media is a long term commitment, not a marketing gimmick. Without a plan, you’ll eventually be overwhelmed or you might even get burnt out. It’s not just about tweeting and posting on Facebook all day. If you need help getting started, try this worksheet from Jay Baer at Convince & Convert.

Set goals. First ask yourself why are you jumping into social media? If it’s because your competitors are on it, then how are you going to measure your success? Asking yourself why will help you determine your social media goals. A key part of a successful strategy is knowing what you want to get out of social media. This is what will drive your actions and help you measure your progress

Develop guidelines for employees to understand the do’s and don’ts of social networking while representing your brand. Determine how transparent and personal posts can be.  What’s off limits? Whether you have a team or just one individual managing your social presence, outline and identify roles and responsibilities. The ownership should be determined prior to execution of any plans or campaigns to alleviate any confusion up front. Here’s an example of Intel’s social media guidelines.

Outline how to handle complaints or crises. Social media can blow up a story, for good or bad, in minutes. Have your social media team and PR department ready for any negative reaction. Start by developing a crises plan and internal fire drills to anticipate what would happen. Employees should know how to react without approval from senior management. It’s important to do this before a crisis happens rather than waiting for one to occur.

Play where your audience plays. There are people who suggest that you need to be everywhere. Wouldn’t that be nice? Realistically, I don’t think it’s possible especially if you’re social media team is a one man show. If you have customers in a specific niche network then engage there. “Prioritize based on which networks can show you the biggest impact and develop content and participation there,” Jason Falls, founder and editor of Social Media Explorer, wrote. However, if you tell customers where they can find you, they will find you. Set up your RSS feed or Google Reader for blog posts from social media gurus (like Jason Falls, Gini Dietrich, or Social Media Examiner among many, many others) to find out what works and what doesn’t. Look at other brands and your competitors on Facebook and Twitter to see what they are posting and how they are using it.

Social media is here to stay. It’s an easy, affordable and great way to connect and engage with your customers. Don’t be afraid to test different marketing strategies in different social media networks, and don’t be afraid to walk away from the ones that don’t work.