September 7, 2011

Social Productivity: Don’t Just Twitter Your Time Away

You and your business have made the commitment to the social web. You’ve created Twitter accounts, you’ve got a LinkedIn profile, you’re blogging and commenting on other relevant blogs, you’ve created a Facebook Page for your business, you're testing the geo-location waters with Foursquare and Gowalla.

Feeling overwhelmed yet? You’re not the only one. Between keeping up with social media sites and running an actual business, many people feel there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Either you never find time to get to your social media accounts (and your last Tweet was three months ago) or you get lured in and spend way too much time online (“Google drifting” from one cool site to another.)

So, how do you strike a balance, giving your online presence the time it needs and deserves, but not getting so “addicted” that it becomes more important than the work you’re using it to promote? The most important step in creating a working – and workable – plan is knowing what’s important to you and to your business. Here are some ideas to help keep you on track:

Know who you are, what your unique offering is, and what value you bring to the market.
Clearly defining who you are is the first step in focusing in on what social media platforms are important to you, what you should be bringing to the table when you participate, and how frequently you should be posting. If you’re positioned as a top source of breaking hedge fund trend news, for instance, you will want to be updating while the market is open and much more frequently than if you are positioned as a retirement management resource. If your business is positioned as a premier local entertainment venue, you might discover that evening is the best time for your posts to reach the audience you want to connect with.

Identify your goals and the strategies you’ve chosen to help you achieve them. If your goal is to connect with potential customers by providing content that positions you as a trusted resource about vineyards, you may not need to spend a lot of time participating in a Twitter thread about the New York Jets (unless, of course, you’re a Long Island vineyard, in which case you might!)

Know which social media platforms are the most tactically important for your business and prioritize participation. If you’ve positioned yourself as a luxury brand, niche communities and sites like A Small World, Generation Benz or ArtSlant, may be more valuable uses of your time than MySpace, for instance. If YouTube content is driving more people to your video production website than Facebook, prioritizing frequent YouTube updates is a smart move. If FourSquare isn’t adding much value to your local business (and you are consistently your own Mayor) sit geo-location out for a while and concentrate on the platforms that are creating a local community for you. You can’t be everywhere at once, so don’t waste time with platforms that aren’t working for you.

Make time in your calendar for social media updates and treat it like a meeting: arrive on time, give it your full attention, and wrap it up before it drags on too long. Creating a routine can go a long way to keeping you focused. If your business benefits from updating LinkedIn and LinkedIn groups twice a week, put it on your calendar. Combine checking in with Facebook, Twitter, and key blogs with checking your email first thing in the morning (more time for that bagel!) Once you find a schedule that works for you, stick with it. That way you are less likely to feel the pressure to check your social media accounts when you should be doing other work.

Rely on Tools:
Take some time to experiment with social media tools and find the ones that work for you., which calls itself a “social business software hub,” is a great site for discovering new tools and shortcuts.

  • Create a “listening suite,” with tools like Twitter Search, Google Alerts, Social Mention, and Blogpulse, schedule a time to monitor mentions, and stick to that schedule.
  • Use browser “favorites” and “bookmark” functions to create an easy-to access list of the blogs and Twitter accounts you are monitoring.
  • Use a posting tool, like Tweetdeck or HootSuite, that makes it possible to update and monitor Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn from one location.
  • Create a “measuring suite,” with tools like Google Analytics,, TweetStats, Technorati, PostRank, and Facebook Ad analytics, to let you know how you’re doing.

Once you’ve clearly defined your positioning, goals, and strategy, you can prioritize your social media tools, create a schedule, and stick to it. When you’ve clearly identified what you are trying to achieve, you can trim what’s not working and spend quality time on what’s truly important for you and your business.

This post was commissioned by British Airways. The opinions are my

June 26, 2011

No Textbook Required: Use Social Sites to Gain Social Media Skills

We’re halfway through 2011 and social media has not yet gone away. It’s thriving, evolving, and changing the way we interact. So if you’ve been putting off learning the new social media tools that will help you connect and engage with customers and clients (as well as potential customers, clients, and contacts) there’s still time to resolve to make 2011 the year you start leveraging its tremendous potential.
While nothing beats hiring an experienced social media practitioner to help you or your business identify goals, strategize, and implement, there are many free resources and tutorials available online to help you learn and familiarize yourself with both basic and advanced platforms, tools, and techniques you need to create or upgrade a social media presence.
Social media enthusiasts are, first and foremost, social, and most of the best practitioners enjoy sharing their knowledge online. There are great videos, great slideshows and great blogs you can access that provide you with an expert – and free – social media education.
Here are some social sites with great resources and tutorials:

Why you should go there:, which describes itself as “a business media site for sharing presentations, documents and pdfs,” offers a wealth of easily searchable presentations as well as features such as “Top Presentations of the Day,” “Hot on Facebook” and “Hot on Twitter,” and “Spotlight.”
How you should use it: Use keyword searches for access to presentations, how-to slide shows, and cutting edge thinking by top practitioners. A search for “social media getting started,” for instance, turns up 1645 hits. Many speakers at social media conferences upload their presentations so search for conferences by name. And use the “people search” function to find content generously shared by experts such as Chris Heuer, Chris Brogan, David Armano, and Beth Kantor.

Why you should go there: The second largest search engine in the world is full of great content, great talks, and great how-to videos. A search for “social media” produces 6,700 results.
How you should use it: Search for “how-to” videos, such as “How to Customize Your Facebook Page” (690 results,) video blogs by social media experts, and videos of speakers at conferences such as Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 Summits or Toby Daniels’ Social Media Week to hear talks about new trends.

Why you should go there: If the web is Social Media U., Twitter is the course catalogue. Social media thought leaders, strategists and practitioners are constantly uploading links to great resources.
How you should use it: Identify a good Twitter List of smart social media thinkers, follow it, and click on the links they tweet. Or create your own list of resources. By following Tweeters like @Mashable, @SocialNetDaily, @SocialMediaComm, @SocialMedia411, @SocialMedia2Day, @SocialMediaWeek, and @TweetSmarter you are guaranteed a daily diet of links to great content, great how-to articles, and great blogs by top social media thinkers (you can find their content and others’ by following my Social Media News list:!/CatherinVentura/social-media-news.)

Why you should go there: which was founded in 2005 and now claims over 30 million monthly page views is one of the single best aggregators of news about social media and digital trends. Updated constantly, it is a one-stop (if a bit overwhelming) treasure trove of the state of the web now.
How you should use it: Take advantage of Mashable’s lists, how-to, and guidebook sections to find lists of social media resources and trends, guides that range from to How to Build Apps, How to Use Facebook Insights, to using Social Media to solve the Global Water Crisis, and e-guides to Twitter and Facebook.

Why you should go there: A search for “Social Media Getting Started” yields 10,800,000 results.
How you should use it: Search for “How to,” “Tutorial,” or “Guide” and the specific topic you’re looking for (e.g. “Tutorial Add Twitter WordPress blog.”)

Not understanding how social media works is no longer an option. When you help yourself to the great resources on the social sites above, you’ll be “learning while doing” as you familiarize yourself with the exciting new ways businesses are connecting in 2011.

This post was commissioned by British Airways. The opinions are my

June 7, 2011

Building a Better, not Bigger, Social Media Network

When it comes to social media networks, a bigger network clearly is better, but only if bigger also means a bigger selection of relevant, targeted, high-quality contacts.

Amassing thousands of random followers with automatic “follow back” gimmicks on Twitter may give you bragging rights at the water cooler, but it will do little or nothing to help you grow your business. And adding 500 friends or fans on Facebook overnight may feel like progress, but if you haven’t mastered the Facebook algorithm of update quality and engagement, your content may not even appear on their feeds.

So what are the best ways to grow quality social media networks, so that the contacts and relationships you create truly benefit you and your business and deliver real value?

There are no shortcuts to creating real engagement and real relationships; as in the “real world,” they need to be nourished to grow and produce results. There are tools, however, that can streamline the process of finding the right people for you or your business to connect with. Here are several steps you can take to help you grow your social media contacts efficiently and organically, through targeted research and engagement:

STEP ONE: Be Brave
Your most valuable contacts are the ones you already have, so leverage them. “Find Friends” on Facebook and Twitter and “See Who You Already Know” on LinkedIn are functions that allow the sites to access your Gmail, Aol, Yahoo!, or Hotmail email address books and identify which of your contacts already have profiles. To get started, each of the services asks you to enter your email address and your password. Be brave and let them access your email. It’s not a “bulk follow.” You can pick and choose, and it’s a great way to jump-start your community.

Don’t have an email account with one of those popular providers? Create one, import your contacts from your business accounts, and let LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook access it.

STEP TWO: Be Clear
Know why you are networking. Identify your goals, whether they are personal or for your business, and prioritize them. If you identify your top priority as building brand awareness, for instance, you will start creating a different community than you would to enhance “customer retention.” Prioritizing your marketing goals will help you prioritize whom to reach out to as you build your social media base.

STEP THREE: Be Curious
Social media platforms are great opportunities for making connections in a highly targeted way. The best way to start is with Twitter, where it is fine to follow and reach out to “strangers.” Once you’ve made a good contact on Twitter, it’s an easy next step to move the connection to LinkedIn or Facebook, and then, hopefully, into a solid face-to-face connection as well.

Here are some great tools to help you discover interesting people and communities:

1) Twitter Lists: Twitter users have already done a lot of research for you by creating lists of the people they enjoy following. Find a thought leader in your field and check out the Twitter Lists they’ve created or the lists that include them to find interesting new people to follow and connect with. is a great site that aggregates Twitter lists and makes it easy to search for topics – and users – that interest you. Also,’s Twitter Lists organize recommended users into lists based on field or interests (such as marketing, economics, wine, etc.)

2) Twitter Search: (advanced Twitter Search) is still one of the best tools around for identifying targeted users to follow with keyword and location searches. Because of the location function (you can even search by zip code) it’s a great tool for local businesses to build relationships.,,,, and are also great tools that help you drill down and identify interesting new users.

3) Twitter Recommendations: Twitter now recommends users that you may be interested in following. “Who to Follow,” which appears on your own Twitter page, gives recommendations based on who you are already following (so, the more specific your niche, the better the suggestions.) “Similar to…” which appears on Twitter users’ profile pages finds users that Twitter considers similar. Click through for interesting new discoveries. And when you do follow new contacts, don’t expect them to follow back automatically: reach out by responding to one of their Tweets, by Retweeting a Tweet or a link to their blog, or by engaging in the comments section of their blog.

4) Facebook and LinkedIn Threads: Join interesting, relevant conversations in LinkedIn Groups or Facebook Pages or Groups and engage with other contributors. Once a connection has been made, “friend” them on Facebook, or “link to” them on LinkedIn. And, of course, follow them on Twitter.

5) Blog Threads: Read blogs that are relevant to your business and post responses with your thoughts, including a URL to your Twitter account. See who else is making interesting comments, engage with them, then make a connection on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

STEP FOUR: Be Generous
The key to social media success is bringing value to the conversation. Engage by sharing information and ideas that are valuable to your target community and positioning yourself as a resource. Use Twitter Search to find questions you can answer, problems you can solve, and relevant content you can share. And retweet and share other users’ content that is relevant to your community.

So work on growing your networks, but work efficiently by focusing on targeted connections that truly matter. Use tools to grow your networks with new contacts, new connections, and new friends who can help grow your business as well.

This post was commissioned by British Airways. The opinions are my

May 26, 2011

Is Your Social Media Voice Oscar-Worthy?

As businesses flock to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and FourSquare, it’s more important than ever to create a distinctive social media voice that stands out from the crowd and reflects your own unique offering.

While most businesses are vigilant about keeping branding and messaging consistent across their websites, business cards, and e-blasts, many still don’t focus on how they speak to their customers via Facebook and Twitter.

If you’re an authoritative financial brand whose target audience is high net worth C-suite investors, for instance, you may not want to use Twitter to urge them to “check out this awesome mashup.” Or, if you’re an edgy fashion retailer whose target market is 20-something fashionistas, you may not want to post: “please connect with us on LinkedIn to see our new SlideShare presentation.” And, as tempting as it may be to turn your Facebook page or Twitter Feed over to an intern, most interns sound like, well… interns… and not necessarily like your brand.

Carefully crafting a social media voice that reflects and expresses who you are (or who you aspire to be) helps ensure that your social media strategy dovetails – instead of clashes — with your overall marketing strategy.

So what is the best way to create a “brand voice” that works across social media platforms to engage your audience or customers in a dialogue about your brand?

Why not take a cue from the masters of great dialogue – screenwriters.

Screenwriters (whether they’re based in Hollywood, Bollywood, or Pinewood) all share a common craft: they create distinctive characters, they place those characters in a context, they give those characters a goal, then they show us how that character pursues that goal.

Creating a great social media voice for you or your company is a similar process: just substitute “character” with “brand.” Businesses that use social media effectively start by creating a distinctive brand identity across social media platforms, they give the brand a context with a clear, consistent positioning, they prioritize their marketing goals, and then they get to work telling their brand’s story as they pursue that goal.

And, just as a good screenwriter would not send a small French mouse to battle the Matrix or send a trench-coated hacker into a restaurant kitchen to create souffle, your brand’s character needs to fit your brand story and marketing goals.

The first step is to identify your goals clearly, both short and long-term, so you can align your social media tactics with those targets in mind. (How to set your goals is a whole other discussion, of course, but it always helps to start with the basics: Are you trying to gain greater brand awareness? Sell products online? Drive foot traffic to a physical store?)

Once you’ve defined your goals, it’s time to analyze your two most important characters: you and your audience. Is your brand young or mature, witty or authoritative, informative or entertaining, provocative or helpful, all business or mixing business with pleasure? Is your audience millennial or boomers, fun-loving or demanding, passionate or critical, skeptical or looking for a reason to believe? The answers will help you choose the language, the tone, even the adjectives your brand should be using to communicate effectively with your target audience.

Now take a look at your brand identity and positioning and create a list of keywords and topics that reflect what makes you distinctive, valuable and unique. Are these keywords appearing frequently in your social media updates? Using a tool like Tweetcloud (which creates a “tag cloud” of your recent tweets) is great way to take a “snapshot” of your overall messaging on Twitter.

Also, make sure you are engaging your audience and giving them something of value. A great rule of thumb in social media is that approximately 60% of your content should create value for your audience, 30% should be engagement and interaction, and 10% should be things that make you “human,” interesting, and unique. That 10% can be a great way to reinforce your brand’s relationship with its target audience as well. If you’re brand is young and hip, feel free to share your passion for extreme sports. If your brand is sophisticated and international, sharing new wines or resorts you’ve discovered could be a great way to share extra value and create personal relationships.

Just like many screenwriters say their best characters often take on lives of their own and tell the screenwriter what should happen next, an expertly-crafted social media personality can reward you by creating unexpected and valuable new relationships for your business or brand.

Craft your social media voice well by creating a distinctive “character” your audience will value interacting with, give your voice context by aligning it with your business’ positioning, give that voice clear goals to achieve, then get ready for its starring role telling your brand story. The award for best social media voice goes to…

This post was commissioned by British Airways. The opinions are my

May 12, 2011

Why LinkedIn Should Be Your First Social Stop

Facebook and Twitter are without question the biggest stars in the social media universe. But while those two platforms attract more media attention, there are many reasons why you may want to make LinkedIn the first social media stop for your business each Monday morning.

If you haven’t taken a look at LinkedIn in a while, it’s time to get acquainted with all of the robust new features that have taken it from its original status as your “online Rolodex” and place to look for career contacts — to a content-rich social site with many real-time features. The new functionality is quickly making it the single best way to “brand” yourself and your company in the social arena.

Founded in 2003, LinkedIn now has over 100 million members world-wide, including over 1.5 million C-level executives. As Twitter and Facebook continue to add more analytics and promotional tools, LinkedIn is quietly keeping pace in a more targeted, “business-like” way. In fact, updating your LinkedIn status on Monday morning and Friday afternoon is an increasingly valuable way to keep yourself and your business top of mind with the people you know, as well as to make valuable new connections with people you would like to know.

New LinkedIn features include the Facebook-style ability to add rich links to your updates, including links to images, videos, articles, and blog posts. You can now “like,” “comment,” or “share” other users’ posts and links as well. And one particularly targeted new feature is the ability to control which connections or groups you’d like to “share” your updates with. Think of LinkedIn as your own “Business Wire,” where you share news about your business successes (new clients, new offerings, blog posts, conferences, speaking engagements, etc.) as well as links to content that will interest potential clients, customers, partners, or employers.

While short LinkedIn posts can be cross-posted to Twitter by clicking the link in the update window, think carefully before choosing to automatically update LinkedIn with your Tweets. The kind of friendly, conversational Tweets that are so important to networking on Twitter are out of place on LinkedIn and can be annoying to your network. Think carefully, too, about cross-posted with Facebook. As easy as it may be to post to all three sites with tools like Tweetdeck, take a few moments to craft the content you are posting so that it speaks most effectively to each of your networks.

As LinkedIn enhances its real-time sociability, it is also continually adding features that can enhance your branding and create a rich sense of who you – and your business – are. Take advantage of the “Reading List by Amazon” feature, for instance, to show that you are keeping up-to-date on important thinking in your sector. Add your blog content with Blog Link, your visual work with Creative Portfolio Display, monitor what others are saying about your company with Company Buzz, or share your best thinking with Slide Share (you can find these features by clicking “add sections” or “add an application” on your “edit profile” window.)

Group functions are also becoming more robust (and open) and there are many compelling reasons for you to monitor and join the conversation in groups that are relevant to your business. Showing the group icons on your profile is great way to enhance your branding by creating a visual snapshot of what your interests are. Group Updates now appear on member homepages, which means your contributions are now more visible. And LinkedIn Answers is a great forum for demonstrating your expertise on a platform that is indexed by Google.

So why not make time to review your presence on LinkedIn? To start off, be sure that your profiles are up-to-date; that your expertise is on full display, and that your networks are current. Then you can begin to explore LinkedIn’s many new features to see which ones can help put your own business front and center in the social media universe.

This post was commissioned by British Airways. The opinions are my

May 6, 2011

One Size Doesn't Fit All

You’ve seen those awkward updates on Facebook – short fragments via Tweetdeck with a string of Twitter “#hashtags.” You’ve seen them on Twitter – long ones that are cut off mid-sentence and followed by a Facebook URL. You’ve seen the off-topic tweets in your LinkedIn feed about the latest MBA trade or the latest political scandal. You’ve seen the endless and ubiquitous Foursquare check-ins to cafes and bars and conferences. And you’ve seen the tone-deaf pre-scheduled tweets about marketing that keep automatically popping up while the entire Twitter world is reacting to something timely and important, like an earthquake or an election.

While it may seem like a clever way to save time and make your content do double (and sometimes quadruple) duty, using tools that automatically cross-post the same content to different social media channels is not a smart business move.

What’s wrong with cross posting? Why not take advantage of applications like Tweetdeck that let you post from multiple accounts with a single keystroke? Why not link your Twitter account to your Facebook and LinkedIn feeds? Why not send new blog activity directly to Twitter? Or create editorial calendars and use a tool like CoTweet to schedule all your updates one to two months in advance?

Inappropriate cross posting undermines the purpose — and the value — of using social media in the first place, which is to create communities for your business and engage authentically with your customers, potential customers, colleagues, partners, and peers.

Each social media platform has its own character and its own community etiquette and protocols. Your blog is a forum where you can express what’s on your mind and what you think your community will find valuable or debatable. Facebook is a great way to engage a community that already likes and supports you and provide that community with visually rich content. LinkedIn is your “business news wire,” a great tool for letting your business networks know about your company’s — and your own — successes. And Twitter is a virtual networking party: a place to engage with new contacts as well as established ones.

When you send telegraphic tweets to Facebook, instead of taking the time to communicate directly with your Facebook community, you are saying that that community is not something you value enough to truly engage with. When you cross-post from Facebook to Twitter, you are telling the Twitter community you haven’t bothered to show up and log on. When you automatically send an endless stream of off-topic tweets to LinkedIn, you are telling important business contacts that you don’t respect their time. When you schedule updates in advance, you are missing valuable opportunities to demonstrate your business’ value in real-time and respond to real-time events. And the fact that you just became the mayor of Starbucks is – face it! – a private matter between you and your barista and not something your business network wants to see cluttering up its feeds.

When you automate and cross-post, you are demonstrating “poor citizenship” in the various social communities you’ve joined. And you are revealing to your communities that you are on automatic pilot, that you are not really there engaging with them but, instead, just flooding their inboxes with one-way communication. Treating social media like another direct mail channel is — to put it simply — a waste of each platform’s potential.

Of course there are some exceptions: content that is appropriate to post on all your social media platforms – short updates announcing a speaking engagement or a new blog post, for instance. But even if you are using a tool like Tweetdeck or CoTweet to post to multiple social media sites, taking a few minutes to customize each update – brief and punchy for Twitter, more inclusive and engaging for Facebook, “Business Casual” for LinkedIn — makes a world of difference. It tells each of those communities that you “get it,” that you understand the etiquette, that you value their eyes and their time and their feedback, that you are an active, transparent, and authentic participant.

Just like “bespoke” clothes have much more value than “off the rack” ones do, “bespoke” social media updates will create much more value for you and your community than “one size fits all” updates. If you take the extra time to put your best foot forward and use social media tools well, engaging appropriately to each platform in real time, you will earn your communities’ trust and respect and create tremendous value for your business. Make sure that each of your updates is appropriate to the platform and has value for that particular community and your community will return the favor with value for you.

This post was commissioned by British Airways. The opinions are my

February 12, 2011

Groupon and Kenneth Cole: Trafficking in Human Misery

On Sunday night, the otherwise beloved social buying site,, caused gasps in living rooms across America -- as well as virtual gasps on computer screens across America -- with their Super Bowl ad. The ad copy proposes that, while the Tibetan people are in danger of extinction, Tibetan refugees do make excellent fish curry for Groupon customers to enjoy.

The fact that Groupon is also promoting online contributions to The Tibet Fund and promising matching donations of up to $100,000 was not mentioned in the surprisingly graceless and unfunny ad, prompting the question: were there any grownups in charge when their agency pitched the ad? (In advertising there actually are some times -- although granted not many -- when a focus group really is a good idea.)

To his credit, Groupon Founder and Chief Executive Andrew Mason wrote a blog post in which he underscores that Groupon takes social responsibility very seriously. He graciously defended their ad agency, saying it "strives to draw attention to the cultural tensions created by brands" and claimed that Groupon was making fun of itself, much the way Hulu did last year in an ad by the same agency. Mason also noted that the ads that he personally finds offensive are "the scores of Super Bowl ads that are built around the crass objectification of women," adding, in a bit of wishful thinking, "unlike those ads, no one walks away from our commercials taking the causes we highlighted less seriously."

Perhaps no one in the Groupon office will take them less seriously, but undoubtedly the very same viewers who enjoy light beer and the objectification of women will do just that, having been subtly prompted to do so by Groupon. And while the Hulu ad made fun of Hulu's service, saying that it rotted your brain, the Groupon ads aren't just making fun of Groupon's service, they are making fun of a people who are having their brains blown out by an oppressor. 

Groupon's lapse in taste was even more inexplicable coming on the heels of last week's social media gaffe by designer Kenneth Cole, who tweeted: "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at - KC." That Tweet was particularly offensive because of the use of the "#", which inserted it into the stream of political Tweets that activists and sympathizers were following (and we wonder why the world hates America!)

Cole was quick to apologize, as well, and to remove the offending Tweet, but it wasn't the first time he had appropriated death and suffering to sell blazers and hobo bags. In his "Today is Not a Dress Rehearsal," campaign, launched only five months after September 11th, 2001, he created a particularly upsetting ad featuring a sexy model stretched out on a dining room table eating strawberries in her skimpy Kenneth Cole clothes, with the tagline "On September 12th, families returned to the dining room table."

While most of Cole's provocative ads suggest positive change (if you agree with him politically, of course), his "it's all about me" appropriations of real loss and tragedy, like the Groupon ad, minimize and trivialize the very real suffering of the Egyptian and Tibetan countries, communities, and cultures.

People in Egypt and Tibet are struggling and dying for the same fundamental freedoms that allow Cole and the good folks at Groupon to make their own political and social views heard. While it is often said that all publicity is good publicity, let's hope that Kenneth Cole (the brand), Groupon, and all companies for that matter stop capitalizing on and trivializing human misery and suffering for commercial gain and to drive traffic to businesses and websites. That kind of "trafficking" and commoditization of pain, death, and passionately held political beliefs has no place in truly responsible advertising or social media outreach.

January 23, 2011

Eight Steps to a Great Social Strategy

Social media networks and platforms are highly strategic, highly targeted, and highly effective tools that can help your company achieve short and long-term marketing goals, as well as enhance branding and positioning.  But trying to launch a social media strategy without setting the stage is like trying to get high yields from a shiny new combine harvester without first preparing and planting the fields. Too many companies expect social media strategies to yield instant results, when they haven’t yet done the ground work to create a presence and a portfolio of tools. Here are eight first steps companies can take to set the stage for social media strategies.

1.  Create Social Media Accounts – Not ready to tweet yet? Still developing a Facebook strategy? That shouldn’t stop you from going ahead and creating a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a YouTube channel (and reserving your company’s name before someone else does!)  Most importantly, no company should be without a LinkedIn Company Profile. It puts your company on the LinkedIn “map,” links to employees’ profiles, and allows other users to follow your company news.

2. Start Listening – Use some of the tools available to monitor what people are saying about your company, your industry, the sectors you serve, and your competition. Free tools such as Google Alerts, (is this supposed to be search (dot) twitter?), Social Mention, Blogpulse., and Boardreader or paid tools such as Scoutlabs, Heartbeat, and Radian6 help you monitor search terms, sentiment and relevant news.

3. Create Branded Social Media Icons -  Social platforms can be customized to reflect your company’s branding but you may need to adapt your logo and imaging. Make sure you have a small square version of your logo or photo for Twitter, a long rectangular version for your Facebook icon, a simple, high contrast version for LinkedIn, etc.

4. Create Social Media Buttons and Links – Google loves links so wherever possible, increase your company’s searchability with social media links. List all your social media URLs on your Facebook info page, on your LinkedIn profile, and on your YouTube channel. Add social media buttons to your Website and to your email templates. Comment on articles and blogs with a link back to your company’s website or Twitter account.

5. Train Your Staff –  Empower your staff by letting them know your company’s social media guidelines, expectations, and policies. If you don’t have guidelines yet, create them! Bring in a consultant who can train staff in best practices and social media “culture.”

6. Set Up A Web Browser Folder with Social Media Links  – Use your web browser’s “Favorites” or  “Bookmarks” function to collect social sites, blogs, listening tools, etc., in one handy folder. That way, all your social media sites and tools are quickly and easily accessible, creating efficiencies and saving you time.

7. Gather and Create Content – Chances are your company already has shareable content, such as slide presentations, videos, photos, and white papers. Start collecting what you’ve got so that you can share it via social media platforms. Prepare a calendar of upcoming news and events that could be shared via social media. And make sure your staff has the tools to create and post new shareable images, such as flipcams and smartphones.

8. Use Analytics -  Make sure you are using web analytics tools (such as Google Analytics or HubSpot) in order to track which social media sites or posts are successfully driving traffic to your website.

By taking these first steps, your company will be on solid ground when it’s time to start developing and implementing a social strategy!

This post was commissioned by British Airways. The opinions are my