Social Media: Your customers know more about it than you…

By Beth Harte, Community Manager, MarketingProfs

bethharte_thom1We’ve been hearing about social media for years – you can’t escape hearing about Twitter or Facebook. Heck, even Ashton Kutcher, Shaquille O’Neal and MC Hammer are on Twitter. As a communicator you might be struggling with how social media can help your organization and how to get started.
That’s understandable, but your customers, prospects and other constituents aren’t waiting for you to get your proverbial social media act together…they are already using social media tools and networks to hold conversations about your organization, employees, and products/services.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Dell, Comcast, Johnson & Johnson, Dominos, Walmart, Tropicana or any customer who has ever blogged or tweeted about your organization.

What is Social Media really all about?
If you look up the definition of Social Media on Wikipedia, you’ll find:
“Social media is online content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. Social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content; it supports the human need for social interaction with technology, transforming broadcast media monologues (one to many) into social media dialogues (many to many).”
People who use social media tools tend to find each other, form communities and bond over commonalities. That means social media includes the tools as well as the relationships and conversations that develop.

How can social media help?
Social media tools and engaging in ongoing conversations online with customers, prospects and communities can help an organization in many ways. Just to name a few:

  • Growing and supporting brand evangelism
  • Shortening the sales cycle
  • Developing customer-driven products and services
  • Sharing of product information and messages
  • Supporting customers (the organization or its customers helping customers)
  • Developing referrals or references
  • Avoiding or decreasing online crises

How do you get started?
Think of social media as a cocktail party online. You wouldn’t attend a cocktail party and start pushing your wares, right? (Think Emily Post here). A few guidelines for engaging in social media:

  • Be real (i.e. don’t be a corporate robot, inject some personality or be personable)
  • Be nice and respectful
  • Listen, then talk (i.e. don’t interrupt conversations)
  • Give, then take (i.e. provide value before you take value from others)
  • Try to be consistent (i.e. use these tools daily)
  • Apologize when you make a mistake
  • Say thank you
  • Don’t broadcast (i.e. don’t overly promote your company, products/services)
  • Don’t stalk
  • It’s not a numbers game (i.e. think quality over quantity)
  • Don’t publicly or privately unfollow/unfriend (i.e. if you want to unfollow/unfriend someone, just do it, don’t make a scene out of it)

Here are some books that will get you headed in the right direction:

  1. Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
  2. The New Influencers by Paul Gillin and Geoffrey A. Moore
  3. Marketing to the Social Web by Larry Weber
  4. The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott
  5. World Wide Rave by David Meerman Scott
  6. Tactical Transparence by Shel Holtz and John Havens
  7. Social Media Marketing an Hour a Day by Dave Evans
  8. PR 2.0 by Deirdre Breakenridge
  9. Putting the Public Back in Public Relations: How Social Media Is Reinventing the Aging Business of PR by Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge
  10. The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web by Tamar Weinberg
  11. Measuring Public Relationships by Katie D. Paine

There are also a lot of great blogs and bloggers out there too! Check out:

But the best way to get started in social media is to engage in social media. Not as a representative of your company but as you! Find a community that shares your passion and get engaged. You’ll learn a lot about how communities and relationships form. But even more importantly, you’ll learn a lot about how communities support (or not) organizations and their products and services.
Beth Harte is a marketer, blogger, speaker, communicator, thinker, connector (people & dots), and MarketingProfs’ Community Manager. Beth’s job is to listen, engage, and connect members and fans with each other and MarketingProfs.

Beth blogs at The Harte of Marketing where she shares opinions & observations… hers and those that she’s picked up from some of the best marketers, communicators and social media leaders in the world. Beth is also a speaker and an adjunct communications professor at Immaculata University in PA where she teaches communications, public relations and social media. Beth digs history, the arts, culture, books (historical fiction & business), politics, travel, beer, and cowgirl boots.

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