29 September 2009

Taking Manageable Bites Out of Social Media

This past weekend I was lucky enough to take a one-day seminar on Social Media from Karl Kasca, co-founder of IncreaseOnlineProfits.com (the seminar was facilitated through the UCLA Extension program). During this 6 hour class (we got an hour for lunch), Mr. Kasca gave the participants an overview of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, SlideShare.net and blogging. A lot of information, no doubt, and further reinforcing the fact that in the world of Social Media, it's impossible to do it all.

As social media becomes more prevalent, from recruiting to marketing to gauging public opinion, it's important for all of us to remember "everything in moderation." The interconnectivity of social media is amazing, there's no doubting that. However, information overload is only a hop, skip and mouse-click away.

I'm starting to really dig social media, I'm not going to lie. I think the amount of avenues it opens and the ability to share information is a great asset to us as a society. However, as with the Internet, we're still in the early days of social media. Believe it or not, there will be a "social profile" bust, similar to the dot-com bust of the early 21st century. For those of us who have embraced social media with a passion, we are the early adopters. We're the people who first used Compuserve to send emails and remember a time when AOL was the only game on the web.

And of course, it's okay to experiment. What are the benefits of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.? We're using these tools, discovering what makes them work for us, our companies or our business, because only through using these applications will we discover just how relevant they are. We're pretty much taking a plate of spaghetti, chucking it toward the wall and seeing what sticks. And that's a good thing. It's only through using these tools to their utmost capabilities that we'll discover what deserves to stick around and what doesn't.

Case in point - MySpace. There's no doubt it was the forerunner of the social networking world. It's still useful today, but has become much more of a niche social network, useful for music and movie promotions, while Facebook has become the overall "grand daddy" of networking. Only time will tell us if Facebook will one day become niche--maybe we're destined to think and write in 140 characters or less.

When looking at social media from a business standpoint, it's overwhelming, there's not two ways about it. As with online advertising a few years ago, the popular opinion is to be "everywhere," blanketing the web with your message as if you're running a double truck in the Sunday paper. But it's not necessary, no matter how much CEOs, VPs and Marketing leaders purport that it is.

The keys to social media are consistency and timeliness. That means that hosting profiles or blogs on every conceivable platform won't do you any good if you can't maintain them. People are looking for relevant content, not sales pitches or regurgitated corporate-speak. It's hard enough to update one blog on a weekly basis: imagine trying to come up with original blog posts for three different ones, while also sending out relevant Twitter feeds, updating your wall on Facebook and answering questions on LinkedIn. It's too much.

As with online advertising (which has just about gone the way of the dodo), a little goes a long way. You want people to want your content. You want them to look forward to your updates, to retweet your posts and "fan" you on Facebook. That's how you not only build a network of engaged consumers, but how you build a community of brand advocates.

I have to admit, I was overwhelmed when I left class on Saturday. In fact, I still don't think I've processed everything Karl shared. But I'm working on it. I'm working on reviewing the information and determining what the best options are for my client and his business. As with most organizations, I am a one-woman show at the moment, meaning I have to be conscious of the time commitment it will take to establish and maintain a social networking presence. I also need to keep in mind who our target consumer is and where they might be. It's as much about the research and strategy as it is the implementation. Isn't that always the way?

When determining how to move forward with a social media strategy for your company, keep in mind a few things I've learned:
1. Keep it manageable
2. Keep it relevant
3. Keep it simple

It's really still the best advice.

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