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Social Media 101

Philosophy behind staying connected in a mind-boggling world


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I talk to people every day about social media, and have found a common theme: “Why should I care what people say on Twitter?” or “I have a Facebook fan page, but no one is talking to me there,” or “I have a LinkedIn profile, but I own the company, so I don’t see a need for updating it,” or “I get that a consumer business would use social media, but I don’t understand how I can use it in my business-to-business company.”

Everyone is so focused on the tools rather than the philosophy or the strategy that it’s no wonder they feel overwhelmed and exhausted—and that social media isn’t working for some.

So let’s take a step back to the beginning. If you’re thinking about social media from a tool perspective (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr, Google Wave, Yammer, Foursquare), you’re never going to achieve what you want or find a return-on-investment.

Social media is about having better relationships with current customers, potential customers, franchisees, your corporate office, employees, stakeholders and potential talent—better relationships, on a one-to-one level, using the tools available to you right now to make you more efficient.

Think about this:

Social media, from a relationship standpoint, makes you even more efficient and still gets you home in time to have dinner with your family. No longer do you have to wait until the annual conference or the monthly Chamber meeting to connect with your peers or develop new relationships. Now you can do it 24/7, behind a computer screen, or on your phone. And the best part? I have a client who always says, “I used to have a face for radio. Now I have a face for social media.”  It’s true: You don’t even have to brush your teeth to network now.

Most of us who use social media daily understand the value and power of it: A customer who is unhappy can be turned into a brand ambassador if you simply listen to what they have to say, respond to them and make changes. A new product or location can be launched by crowdsourcing ideas from your community, which will feel like they have ownership in your brand. Someone across the country or even overseas can have access to your product or service at any time.


 

But none of these things happen if you build your social networks and expect people to come to you, or if you use social networks as just another way to sell your wares. This is not the “Field of Dreams”—just because you build it does not mean they will come. You have to provide value that makes people want to join you, participate in conversation, and engage you one-on-one.

I want you to do two things:

Listen, listen, listen. Listen to what people are saying online about you, your company, your competitors and your industry. Tools such as Google alerts, Backtype, and TweetBeep will help you do just that and will send you alerts so you don’t have to go out and get the information yourself. My column in the October 2009 Franchise Times gives you some tools to do just this. (Find it on www.franchisetimes.com.)

Think about social media as a way to network 24/7. What is the first thing you do when you go to a networking event (after you get a drink)? You introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. You join a conversation. You ask questions. You listen. Then you decide if the person you’ve met is going to become a referral source, a new customer, a new employee or a new friend.

Social media is absolutely no different than a networking event. Join conversations online. Find people who are interested in your concept or product. Talk to them. Ask what they like—Heck, be brave and ask them what they hate! Engage with them and really listen to what they have to say. You’ll be surprised at what you learn.

I know what you’re thinking: What if someone says something negative about me or the brand online? The fact of the matter is, you already have a social media presence. Jilted employees are saying negative things about you on their personal networks. Customers who have had a bad experience are posting it on Twitter and Facebook … maybe even on Yelp or your own Web site. Even stakeholders have a voice. Now you have the chance to participate in the conversation.

Let’s say someone complains about your product or service online, you see the complaint, and you address it. Can you imagine the loyalty you’re creating by listening to the complaint, addressing it head-on, and fixing the issue for that customer?  Your worst customers can become your brand ambassadors.  All you have to do is listen.

Once you’ve started listening and really engaging in conversations online, you’ll quickly find a return on your time investment and that it’s less about what someone had to eat for lunch (you can ignore those Tweets) and more about questions, concerns, and congratulations from people who are already interested in your brand.

Gini Dietrich is chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich Public Relations in Chicago. Gini can be reached at gdietrich@armentdietrich.com or 312-787-7249.

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