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Use Social Media sites effectively, or not at all

But do you really? Is it necessary to be on every social media site and shout your message as loud as you can in to as many microphones as you can find?

Social media websites are not ends in and of themselves – they are a means to an end. For most users social media sites are channels to connect with friends, relatives and colleagues, to read relevant news and keep up to date with stuff that interests them.

Sites like Facebook and Twitter are the digital equivalent of conversations with friends and acquaintances. This means that commercial messages aren’t really welcome. It’s important to realise that on social media websites the user controls the content – what they read, what they share, what they ignore.

Commercial messages are considered interruptive and unwelcome. That’s why as a company, when you do decide to build your presence on Twitter or Facebook or any other social media website, you need to adapt your voice to the medium.

People who are interested in Ford cars don’t want to read loads of hyped sales tweets straight out of car dealer brochures. What they might be interested in is advance information about upcoming Ford cars, inside knowledge of Ford’s R&D, or just to see a human face behind that monolithic corporate image.

The people at Ford know this, so their Twitter account isn’t just a faceless PR machine. It’s run by actual people who have conversations with their followers and provide tweets that are interesting.

This has proven to be a successful approach for them – the Ford Twitter account has over 25 thousand followers.

On Facebook the overall tone is even more informal and social. Where Twitter is becoming a networking tool, people ‘hang out’ on Facebook with friends and family. That’s why success on Facebook depends mostly on how you approach your audience.

While some companies have the benefit of a corporate image that lends itself well to Facebook (Nike for example whose various FB pages boast tens of thousands of fans), for other companies it can be quite challenging to build a strong presence.

They key is to deliver what your fans want. Nike uses Facebook to share cool videos, ask for user input, and launch contests where participants can win great swag.

If all you’re pushing on Facebook is the same sales material as you send by email, you’re not on the right track. Get personal, be authentic, and ask for feedback. Listen to your fans and give them what they ask for.

When you do decide to start tweeting or build a Facebook page, make sure you define for yourself what you want to get out of it. Your goal can be anything from fuzzy marketing stuff like brand-building to solid ROI metrics such as more visitors to your website that convert in to customers.

Sometimes you’ll find that a certain popular social media site just doesn’t work for you. And that’s OK. Social media sites, for all the hype surrounding them, are just channels that you can use for the benefit of your company’s bottom line. If you can’t get any value out of them, don’t use them.

For every social media site that you think can add value, ask yourself the following questions: Is my target audience present? And do they want to hear what I have to say?

As long as you set your expectations and manage your social media presence accordingly, you’ll be OK. Just don’t be social for social’s sake. Whatever you do with social media, make sure it means something.

UPDATE 16 Feb: I came across an excellent case study from Microsoft Advertising on how they successfully deployed social media. It’s a great read and definitely worth your while: » Microsoft Social Media White Paper – Learn & Earn [PDF]

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