Because of their intimate nature, social media tools give you the opportunity to profile your business and form dynamic relationships with potential customers. Best of all they're free and highly measurable as quick time responses reveal almost immediately whether your post has struck a chord with people.
The biggest challenge about getting into the social media space is, however, not how to use the plethora of tools at your disposal - that's easy! It's about making 100% sure that you know exactly what makes your company tick. After all, if you don't know exactly what your company stands for, how can you possibly communicate that in a compelling way?
That brings me to another key aspect of social media interaction. Due to its intimate 'up close and personal nature' it doesn't allow users to hide behind a veneer of truthfulness. Insincerity is simply not possible or tolerated in such a visible space and the damage to your business could be long lasting or even irreparable.
Where to from here?
Once you've appreciated the above realities, there are currently four main social media channels that you should consider using as an SME:
i. TWITTER - One of the fastest growing social media channels, this real-time source of information and comment provides business owners with an immediate way of not only communicating key messages but also keeping their finger firmly on the pulse of what's happening in their particular sector.
ii. BLOGGING - If you establish your own blog (there are a multitude of easy to use blogging sites which provide easy to use templates, e.g. www.btemplates.com) make sure you have a story to tell. They key is not to make it product heavy but rather add value with insightful advice and information that your followers would not be able to get anywhere else.
iii. LINKED IN - A globally linked networking site that provides key connections between business contacts. By adding connections, you increase the likelihood that people will see your profile first when they're searching for someone to do business with. You can also ask business associates that you're currently working with or have worked with to 'recommend' you. This is a big plus as people would much rather work with contacts who their friends know and trust.
iv. FACEBOOK - Facebook is much less business orientated than Twitter. It can work if you own a lighter, less serious lifestyle-orientated brand or business but if you trade in more serious sectors such as the financial or insurance industries, it doesn't lend itself to you being taken seriously or the efficient flow of strategic information.
TOP TIPS for social media engagement
Once you've decided which social media channels are best for you, there are certain ways to truly master the social space:
Frequency - There's no point posting comments/tweeting or checking social media sites once a month or even once a week. The immediacy of the medium demands regular updates on breaking information or quick responses to industry-related events.
Passion - You have to live in the social media space for it to be effective. In other words, you have to have to enjoy tweeting and be prepared to engage in researching good material to write about.
Compelling content - Make sure you're committed to maintaining a presence and have the information/content to feed your discussion. First and foremost, decide who you or your business is and the key messages that you want to communicate in a very real and compelling way.
Customer service - The beauty of social media is that it's a direct 'line' to your existing or potential customers. To really boost interactivity invite comment, ask questions and generally put yourself out there. That said, be prepared for feedback in all its delightful and not so delightful forms. If you do receive a complaint, act on it immediately and then give feedback as to how the complaint was dealt with. In that way you can turn bad customer experiences into really positive ones.
It is clear that social sharing can make a real difference if you just take the time to plan your entry and then maintain a strategic approach by constantly feeding relevant content into the mix. In this way you'll make it clear to customers that you mean what you say and as a result, form solid long-lasting relationships that continue to bear fruit for many years to come.