“Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.”
I’ve been working in the digital/social media space for twenty years now. The last seven have been mainly focused on social media. The reason I mention this is that social is something that is now second nature to me. Fortunately, it’s also something that is coming naturally to a lot of businesses as they hire teams of skilled professionals and employ agencies and technology partners that know what they are doing. However, I’ve realized recently that there are still a lot of very smart people who have tested the waters with social media but are intimidated by it. Not because they don’t see the value, but rather because they have a hard time with some of the basic blocking and tackling (including finding the right tools).
Rather than shake my head and take pity on these folks, I I thought it might be helpful to put together a foundational post on overarching recommendations with the hope that I can do a series of other more channel (and content) specific recommendations. Obviously, there is a ton more I could add so feel free to keep me honest in the comments:
- Set up the right profile.
A lot of decisions about whether or not someone follows you/engages with you starts with your profile. Yes, we learned at a young age not to judge a book by its cover but at the end of the day, we only have so much information to go on (including one’s updates, pictures, etc.). To that end, making sure you have a real picture of yourself, including a few items in your profile that you plan to talk about (BBQ, sports, marketing, music, etc.) gives those that are trying to decide whether or not to follow you a better idea of what your conversation will look like. If possible, it’s also good to include where you work and what you do professionally even if you have to disclaim that “these tweets/updates are my own.” What one does for work isn’t the only thing that defines them but it is a major defining factor. Also, don’t go too heavy on the hashtags (the words with the funny # in front of them). This can make you look spammy.
- Find the right filters AND the right tools.
People tell me all the time that they don’t get Twitter. “I don’t know what value it has” or “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say” are two of the more common complaints. What I will say is that while Twitter (or any other social network for that matter) may not be for everyone, a lot of its value lies with the people/companies/news outlets one follows. A good place to get started with your following (on Twitter at least) is with some of the traditional news outlets like I have on this list here. Another smart option is to consider following co-workers, friends, speakers from conferences, agency partners, etc. One thing I strongly recommend is to not follow too many people too quickly. Someone that is following 250 people with 10 people following back gives the appearance that they are are either a) really new or b) aren’t interesting enough to get people to follow them back. To that end, don’t be afraid to update a dozen times — even if nobody responds — before following too many people. If you want to find people you don’t know that are interested in the same topics that you are, Twellow.com has users listed by category like computers & technology, government or health. In terms of tools, making sure that you have the Facebook app downloaded on your phone is helpful (allows you to keep track of what’s going on during the short breaks you have in your life). For Twitter, I strongly suggest not using Twitter.com or the Twitter app, only because being able to have a built in link shortener (so that you don’t take up 50 out of your 140 characters with a long form URL). There are lots of options out there but I tend to like Hootsuite (I use the Chrome extention). I also use Tweetbot on my iPhone. The key is, auto URL shortening and the ability to follow lists (this makes following more fun). There are some other options I collected here in a Facebook post I did today asking for which other Twitter management tools people used.
- Be Interesting | Give before you get.
One of the main reasons people don’t engage in social media is that they don’t know what they are supposed to talk about. To be honest, it does take a little doing to find your stride. However, what people forget is that you don’t need to be a book author, journalist or well-known blogger to be engaging. You just need to be interesting to the people that matter. That could mean taking photos of a particular topic (food photos?) or finding the best tweets, pictures, blog posts, news articles etc. and letting your network know about them. But don’t forget to let people know why you shared them. That means that liking, commenting, sharing or curating others’ content is paramount. To that end, for every business related post I do about my company, a client or myself, I try and post 3-4 other interesting things (fun questions, pictures, useful links, etc.) As examples, ask people what their first concert was, what their favorite comfort food is, choice of album if they were stranded on a desert island, etc.
- Invest time to build your presence and engagement.
This may seem like a daunting task but if you can invest 30 minutes over the course of the day (that’s 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch and 10 minutes in the evening), you can keep up with 2-3 different channels like Twitter, Facebook and Google +. It isn’t mandatory that you are on every channel every day but committing to being on your primary channels at least 4-5 times a week is a good idea. Conversations move fast and if you miss them, commenting a few days after a conversation has run its course is not only ineffective, it also looks like you aren’t paying attention. One quick way to build engagement and following is to try live tweeting (or taking Instagram pictures) at a conference or local meetup. Be sure you are tagging your updates with whichever hashtag is being used (ask someone at registration or a conference organizer if you are unsure what it is). The other opportunity is to live tweet a webinar or join a live Facebook or Twitter chat (usually involves a subject matter expert as a guest).On the curation front, if you go back to the news list I included above, regularly “retweeting” or posting links to articles found in those news outlet Twitter handles can make you more socially interesting, especially if you include a quick parenthetical as to why you are posting (e.g. “interesting” or “disagree” or “love item number 3”). This also shows a little “love” to whomever you are retweeting/reposting so be sure to incude their handle in your update to give them credit.
- Measure what you do — quantitively or qualitatively.
Measuring anything that you commit time to always makes sense. And in this case, only you can determine how much you want to measure your success. But for some people, getting overly analytical can be a bit of a killjoy, especially as you are getting started. But keeping a Google document or even a notebook with notes about what’s working (“that Facebook update got a lot of likes”) or not working (“nobody commented on that controversial blog post”) can be helpful for seeing macro trends. If you want to dig deeper, there are measurement tools built into both Hootsuite and into link shorteners like bit.ly if you choose to use them. If you want to try out some more advanced tools to learn more about who your social activity and who you are connected with on Twitter and Facebook, be sure to check out SocialBro and WolframAlpha. A tip of the hat to colleague, Greg Matthews for sharing both with me.