Social media is the buzzword these days. But it shouldn't be. Just as the computer and the phone are an integral part of the way we communicate, so too are social media tools.
Taking it a step further, your social networks are not only available via the computer, they are available via the phone, television and (sometime soon) your car.
Social media provides a way of connecting, sharing, and building relationship with people who contribute to your goals - whether they are personal, professional or just for fun.
More than anything, social media tools teach us to focus on the basics of communication:
- Identify Your Voice - What is it that you are passionate about? On what can issues can you contribute ideas? What kind of information do you seek out online? What will make you stand out in the social media crowd? What will make you fit in? On what issues do you think you can make a difference? What is your goal for being online? Having a clear message and purpose is important for creating and supporting a community over the long-term.
- Listen - Always take time to listen to the online conversation - what people are saying about you, your interests, your culture. Active listening (and responding) gives you credibility. Use social media tools to connect with your target audience members and use these tools for audience research. Aggregate RSS feeds from sites and searches related to your target issues. Remember that listening is a two-way street - what you say can benefit (or hinder) those who are listening to you. If you want to someone to listen to you, you better make sure you have something worth listening to.
- Understand - Know the people you are trying to engage with and who can help you meet your goals. Also recognize that people get an understanding of who you are by who you do (and don't) connect with. Follow, fan, friend folks relevant to your online purpose and learn more about what they are interested in. Share messages and information that helps them meet their goals (think WIIFM) and recognize contributions that influence your work. Social media provides awesome tools to perform audience research. Create a social CRM (Salesforce Group + SocialCRMTools + Google Email = Inexpensive SocialCRM) and conduct online surveys and polls to engage more with your community. Combine your social media and website statistics to get an idea of what content draws the most interest and where you connect most with your audiences.
- Call to Action - It is easy to click on a link. But it is huge to actually make a change in the world. Make sure you generate community and supply them with concrete ways to help you meet your goal. And make sure you measure the success of actions taken and communicate that to your community. Nothing makes people want to take action more than seeing others taking that same action - see Derek Sivers: How to Make a Movement TED talk, below.
As you move forward in your social media push, I encourage you to make sure you are constantly being true to your voice, listening to your community, understand community needs, and call your friends, followers, and fans to concrete and measurable action.