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3 steps for the social media beginner

Friday, 20 March 2009 — by

For many businesses, social media is still a mystery. What does social media do? Is it marketing, or is it something else? And who’s going to make the effort to find out? These are common questions I hear emerging from different conversations with business people and clients. So just how will social media really make an impact on businesses? From the ground up…

I am not a social media expert, though many in my industry would probably say they are. I’m just a guy who’s taken a pragmatic approach to using social media for and within my business. Simply understanding something more than someone else is not expertise.

For anyone that’s tried explaining the benefits of having a business blog to guys that have only worked with advertising in trade magazines, like me, you’ll find that you’re opening up a whole world of possibilities. But these possibilities also lead to an amazing number of questions, as well as unknowns and the prospect of additional work for those businesses. And it’s not just the small businesses that are struggling, even big businesses are having problems adjusting to social media.

Case in point, SEO specialist Matt Ridout, whose employers enjoy the benefits of offering SEO services to their clients, but feel uneasy about the prospect of exploring social media in detail. In these economically uncertain times, who can blame them?

The social media revolution

So how would any kind of social media revolution ever begin? The same way all revolutions begin, and that’s at the grass roots level.

After our little chat on Facebook, Matt nudged me in the right direction for writing this article — it wasn’t until I began talking through the way that social media “hangs off” large media websites, that I began to see the shape of the hierarchy of social media more like a graduated set of stages, which in many ways segues very neatly with my Social Loop methodology.

An image depicting how the Socialize Me! WordPress Plugin closes the 'Social Loop'

The essential starting point for social media is a gradual education process. Sadly, the emphasis is all too often on the where and not the why. Sure, by all means, sign up with Facebook, StumbleUpon and Twitter, but if your next question is: “Now what?” that’s when you learn that the where is no substitute for the why.

Step 1: blogging

The benefits of having a business blog outweigh the negatives, which are few. As anyone in business will tell you, anything that’s worth anything takes time and effort. A blog is no different. So that’s your first step.

Now what? So you have you brand new business blog, you’re going to want to share that blog with everyone. That’s a function of your marketing. Yes, over time, you will attract visits from people searching for things related to your business, but you still need to raise awareness and inform people about your new blog.

But what exactly do you write about? Just about anything that’s related to your business. For example, here’s some ideas taken from my ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media:

  1. Share up-coming events and promotional activities, presenting ideas and sharing future plans with clients and stakeholders, to gather feedback.
  2. Quickly highlight issues pertinent to your industry or field, or to specific clients.
  3. Give your staff a voice, so they can share their own thoughts and ideas.
  4. Keep customers up to date with your blog feed, to which they can subscribe.
  5. Give some of your knowledge away for free!

Step 2: sharing

You also want to empower those visitors, by giving them the tools to share your blog with friends via email, or to bookmark your articles with some of the popular social media websites and social bookmarking services. This is usually as simple as adding some special buttons to the footer of your articles.

It’s at this point that you’ll begin to see the connection between writing articles, finding new articles that interest you and sharing those articles with other like-minded people. Those same people will also point you in the direction of the sort of websites and social networks that you and your business will benefit from the most.

Step 3: community

Now that you have friends and contacts in different places around the web, it’s possible that you’re helping build a community, even if only indirectly, by sharing the things you find. The upshot of this is that you’re not only sharing stuff, but you’re also establishing contacts and bringing those same people to your blog.

You are, in effect, closing your very own Social Loop. It’s that simple. And this is the beauty of social media, in that it needn’t be a feet-first, all-or-nothing expedition into the unknown — you’re allowed to take your own time!

Conclusion

So please, take your time, there’s really no rush. Don’t let yourself be drawn into whizz-bang technologies for no good reason. Instead, focus on being needs-driven and identify those things you want to achieve. Once you’ve done that, match those needs with corresponding social media activities. If those activities overlap with your regular marketing activities, that’s when you need to decide which is going give you the most return for your time and effort.

Ultimately, you need to find your own pace and your own rhythm to make social media for you…

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