Thursday, December 31, 2009

How To Use Social Media’s Big Three: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

Social media is hot! Everyone is talking about the effects of Twitter and LinkedIn and how many users are on Facebook. But how do we utilize these sites for your business and your personal use? How do we turn the buzz into dollars for your company and for your personal gain? We know the social media sites are powerful and that you should be on them. OK, now what?

Which social media communication tool is the right one for you? Should you be on all of them? This is hopefully what I can help you with! There are many social media communication tools other than Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. There is Plaxo, Hi5, Friendster, Yammer, etc. A detailed list of Social Media site and their general audience can be found on this Wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites. What sets the big three apart is there search engine optimization (big speak for Google and other Search Engine friendliness) and the heavy interaction and participation on a national and global scale.

Engagement. Before we can talk about joining a social network we must talk about engagement. Do not join Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn if you don’t have the time to use them. Don’t join them if you won’t make the time to learn how to use them. If your profile doesn’t have a picture of your smiling face or you with your product chances are you probably aren’t using Social Media correctly. In order to successfully gain from the online world you will first need to contribute your presence. Give yourself over to the “Matrix”. Fight for good within the system! Leave spam messages, and commercial messages at the door they are not welcome here.

Can you advertise your product? No. Can you talk about your product? Yes! There is a difference. Educating people and informing them about your services in a conversational and community excepted way happens all the time when you are out networking. They are not called “Social Networks” for nothing. Think about a cocktail party. Everyone is there spending there free time to enjoy the company of others and perhaps a delightful cocktail. Social Media works in a similar way. It provides interaction with your chosen community and provides delightful tidbits of intoxicating information. Would you go around the real cocktail party and advertise your yard sale handing out flyers? I have a feeling you would not. Would you bring it up in conversation with a friend or trusted colleague? You very well might! And if you have something that they need there is a very good chance that they will attend your yard sale. Social media works the same way!

Facebook is relevant to your business because there are 350 million potential customers on Facebook ready to link to your “Fan Page” or profile if you can garner their attention. Where else can you set up shop and have potentially 350 million people walk by who could possibly see and shop in your store? Numbers are powerful and if you have a product that is interesting and if you can engage Facebook communities in an interesting and engaging way those numbers will work for you. As in any business it is up to you to close the sale. How do you that? Make sure customers have a way to contact you and purchase your product.

Setting up your Facebook profile is very easy. Upload your picture and interesting personal information that you do not mind sharing with the world. This is really important as a general rule. Do not publish anything to the web that you are not comfortable seeing on the cover of every major Newspaper in the world. Do not publish your birth year if you do publish your birthdate. This is to help protect you from identity theft and ageism. If your intention with your personal Facebook page is to create business connections if you set privacy settings to be too strict there is not much point for having a page. The point of being on a social network is to socialize. Make sure you create difficult passwords and store them in a safe place to protect your online identity and brand.

LinkedIn is a great tool for business people to connect. My favorite part of LinkedIn is recommendations. For years I struggled with how to ask for recommendation letter and the struggle to have someone commit and feel comfortable providing one. Format issues always provide difficulty. Now with LinkedIn it provides a easy way for anyone to write a paragraph or longer recommendation with that person’s relevant job title and company and their relation to you. Bam! Problem solved! LinkedIn is a powerful business connection tool that allows you to display who you are and demonstrate it with evidence such as recommendations from other people and tools that allow you to post your presentations and more. LinkedIn is a bit of a closed network and is not as open as Twitter (which is wide open) or Facebook that really pushes friends to contact friends and so on.

Setting up your LinkedIn file is basically very easy but you will want to create a professional looking photo for your profile if you do not already have one. While it is not really expected for Facebook a professional photo for LinkedIn is! Have your resume ready and make sure you are not making common resume mistakes like not scanning for typos are including false or misleading information. LinkedIn users are very business savvy and will spot your inconsistencies and since the first people in your network will probably be those who know you that means the first people to look at your information and that will have some responsibility for helping you to gain trust from other colleagues will not want to recommend you or introduce you to other people. If you think people can be cold in real life imagine what they are doing on the other side of the glowing screen and they see something that looks ridiculous in your professional information.

Twitter is my favorite tool and it will be yours as well if you utilize it in interesting and creative ways. Creating a Twitter account is easier than most other sites. It requires very little personal information and beyond a Twitter name and password asks you to write a 160 characters about who you are. That’s it. Click your user settings, public of course. And you will be off to the races. OK. It might be a bit more difficult than that. You shouldn’t use Twitter to tweet. I know, you are probably saying, “What?!”. Twitter is a microbogging service which means people write 140 characters or less about “What they are doing?” are so the Twitter site says. But Twitter is much more than what people are doing. I am writing right now but I would not tweet that I was writing right now. What I would tweet is my work when I am finished. People will want to see what I have writer or they will not. Currently on Twitter I have over fifteen hundred people who have all decided @CameronToth occasionally posts some interesting things that I would like to check out. Many others have seen my tweets and sometimes have responded but didn’t think I was interesting enough to follow. And that is OK. The complicated part is how did those not following me see my tweets. How did at least 1,500 people see my tweets when they weren’t subscribing to them already. Well my friend that is the power of Twitter!

Setting up your profile is the easiest part of Twitter. What you will need in order to use Twitter more effectively is some party clients such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck. These two are my personal favorites and make quite a Social Media Tool Team! There are many mobile Twitter tools as well and because many people have different phones and accessibility I won’t go into them. I will say using Twitter from a laptop is almost always much easier than from a mobile phone. While it is easy to broadcast messages it is not always easy to access links and create “trackable” links for your posts. I have gotten a little ahead of myself but I wanted make that point about mobile phones.

So how do people see your tweets. Join up and find communities. For the events community #eventprofs is a great community and event professionals will post links and comments and include the hash tag #eventprofs in their post. This is now trackable in Twitter and you can see it by searching on twitter for #eventprofs are creating a column in Tweetdeck or Hootsuite for keeping track of that hashtag. #assnchat, #ISES, #Meetings and #MPI are all great hashtags to follow if you are an event planner or you are looking to interact with event planners. If you notice I did not use the word sell to event planners even though that might be the goal it should not be your intention. I have a website dedicated to Electronic Medical Record research and for posts on the corresponding Twitter account I use the hash tags #EMR, #Healthcare, #PHR (Personal Health Record), #HCR (Health Care Reform), etc. For the community that you are searching for it either exists already are you will need to create it. The #eventprofs community that is a vibrant one due to the regularly scheduled tweets on Tuesday nights and Thursday afternoon (Eastern Coast US Time) was created by an Event Professional by the name of Lara McColloch who goes by the Twitter name of @Ready2Spark. I feel very indebted to her for creating a great community on line that is responsible in many ways for writing this article now. When you create a community I imagine you will feel a great amount of accomplishment and a gain a great deal of credibility in that community. So you shouldn’t be afraid of stepping out on a limb. For those people who do and succeed we blindly follow. For those people who fail and try again and end up succeeding eventually, well we will end up blindly following them as well.

Lets talk about trackability. Bit.ly and ow.ly links both provide tracking. Bit.ly is provided by bit.ly.com and can be used very easily with Tweetdeck. But because Hootsuite helps me manage multiple Twitter accounts that I use and provides several ways to manage these accounts I prefer using Hootsuite and their ow.ly links. Now, what am I talking about? Well, I am talking about the ability to track ROI. I post links. A lot of the time those links are to interesting web pages and articles that I have come across. Google alerts is a great way to find interesting articles to post for your particular field or interest. Sometimes I post links to my business web page or to partners and affiliates that I am working on projects with. I can track how many times someone clicks the link. This lets me know how successful my efforts are. You can pay Google AdSense to drive hits to your website or you can work for it and build relationships with people on Twitter. As you get more people clicking on your posts they will do thinks like respond. They will “retweet” which means they will repost their message to their followers and their followers may very well “retweet” as well. This can be very useful when publicizing an event that you would think your online community would be interested in attending. Do you see where I am going with this?

Find your customers through Twitter search and engage them in real conversation. Provide excellent advice and customer service when it is called for. Soon you will realize that Twitter and Social Media in general helps to get you outside your familiar circle. It will help you expand the box of ideas that you have making it seem to others that your knowledge is unparalleled and always “outside their box”!

Check out this article for more ideas on how to Tweet: http://ow.ly/LnmX

Check out the Webcast this article was written for http://ow.ly/Q2sY Webcast was sponsored by Sonic Foundry and I recommend them for your next professional webcast. I sought them out to sponsor the webcast due to their level of quality and available interactive options.

Cameron Toth is a social media consultant, a program manager for a non-profit that works to prepare high school students for college and career and he is the Social Media Chair for the communications committee of MPI WestField Chapter. To comment on this article or contact him regarding his services please email him at SocialMedia@MPIWC.org