The use of Social Media in business seems to be growing everyday! There is so much information out there; it can be a little overwhelming for those new to it or those who are just getting started. As a newbie to SM myself, I recently attended a very informative seminar on the topic, in hopes of getting educated on the topic. The Social Media Means Business seminar was hosted by WhizBang! Web Solutions LLC and Sales Sense Solutions, Inc. A very knowledgeable group of individuals with various areas of expertise presented information on this topic. From that seminar, and some independent reading and research, here is what I’ve gleaned regarding how to get started. Develop a social media marketing plan. When getting into social media, it is important that you maintain brand consistency. Build on the reputation that you have already established. Your on-line presence should mirror that of your “brick and mortar” presence. Use the same logo and tagline so that people will understand that you are the same company. Having a SM presence is a way to build on what you have already accomplished. Decide: who, what, where, when, and why. Who: who will be responsible for building your SM presence? Will you do it yourself, assign someone in your company, or will you hire an outside company to do it? When deciding on who will take on this responsibility, keep in mind that this is a dynamic environment and updates should be posted regularly. Be sure to choose a person who can commit the time to keeping information updated. What: what will your on-line presence look like? What is the main message you want a person to understand when visiting your online profiles? Do you want to give them information about a topic, show them your mission statement, tell them what you do, or all of the above? Your online presence should mirror that or your “bricks and mortar” brand. Think about what your online presence can say to get people to connect to you. If you’re using LinkedIn, what will make a networker want to connect to you? If you’re using Twitter, what can you say to make someone follow you? Take time in this step to be sure to send the right message, it’s important! Whichever outlet you chose, you can always use that to link back to your website for more information about your company. Where: decide which outlets you would like to target. There are so many different SM outlets out there it would be difficult to have an immediate presence on all of them. Start with only one or two. Look at some of the different outlets, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, FaceBook, etc. and decide which would best meet your needs. This can be based on audience: who subscribes or participants in this outlet. What are the demographics? Are you looking to target professionals, students, or some other population? Do some key word searches on the site and see what you get. It can also be determined by the overall focus and intent of the site. For example, in my opinion, FaceBook is focused more on personal networking, such as sharing pictures of your family, what’s on your mind, and other fun, personal activities. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is more business focused. However, your presence on a site is what you make of it and many people choose to use FaceBook for business. Take some time to explore each site to see where you would like to have a presence. When: determine how much time can be allocated to your SM presence. It is important that content is current and relevant. You should have a regular presence, meaning update your information on a regular basis. Nick Francesco of www.asknick.com says that by doing this, people will come to understand that you will be there, ready to share your knowledge, on a regular basis. Tell people when to expect your next post too. This way they will know when to check back. People will begin to get more comfortable and familiar with you. The amount of time you can commit will help you determine which SM outlet you can begin with as some take more time to manage than others. A blog, for example, requires new content on a regular basis and the content is longer than what you would post to Twitter and other outlets. There are ways to save some time when maintaining a blog. Please see the “tips” for more information. Why: why do you want to use SM? What are your goals and what do you hope to achieve? If you see it as strictly free advertising and you plan to have only “commercials” people will eventually lose interest so this is not a wise approach to take. They will be less interested in joining your network or following you to read sales pitches. However, if you provide useful, accurate information, relevant to your business industry, they’ll keep coming back. You will begin to establish yourself as a subject matter expert. This will help you to gain credibility and trust, increasing the chances that a person will want to do business with you. Tips: To save time posting a blog, you can post an article that was written by someone else as long as you provide a link to the original article and list who wrote the article. You can then give your commentary on the topic of the article or find a way to relate the information to local trends or challenges. You can also ask your colleagues to be “guest bloggers” and submit articles for you to post, again giving them credit and adding their byline and link to their website. Using links is a good way to drive additional traffic to their site so it’s often a good trade-off. Nick Francesco of www.asknick.com said, “A blog gets people’s attention and Twitter keeps it.” I think that’s a great analogy. Many SM outlets have really useful technical features, functions, and gadgets. Don’t let these scare you. Start slowly with the basic functions and gradually build up to incorporating the more high-tech components. Be sure to incorporate SM in your overall marketing plan. Don’t make it just an afterthought. As part of your marketing plan, you will be more likely to actually using it and will keep it in the forefront of your activities. If you are plan on maintaining your SM outlets yourself, put it on your schedule and be sure that you stick to that schedule. This too will help you be more regular and disciplined about keeping things updated.