EARLIER THIS WEEK Forbes published a great piece about the hidden benefits of social media. It includes lots of important points, especially for business owners who are frustrated when they don’t see a significant return on their social investment, and it reminds them that it takes time to build momentum.
The bottom line is that social media is a way to extend your influence among your current customers and to reach out to new ones. And it can be the ultimate brand-building tool, giving business owners the opportunity to build community, establish authority and, ultimately, increase web traffic.
No matter which social media platforms you use, or are thinking about using, there are some rules that always apply. Here are six of them:
1. Interact with enthusiasm. People who use social media are looking for authentic and positive interactions. Plenty of research shows that on the most popular social network, Facebook, positive posts generate more engagement and tend to be shared more than negative or critical ones.
2. Know your boundaries. There is no rule that says just because you’re on social media you must divulge every thought you have and every detail — personal or otherwise — to your customers and fans. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of social media is that too many people feel compelled to photograph every meal and share every other mundane moment of their lives. As a business owner you will have to walk a fine line between giving your customers insights about your business culture and employees and oversharing. But you might discover, after some experimentation, that you actually enjoy interacting with people who are fans of your business.
3. Show up on a regular basis. To have a rewarding presence on social media you must attend to it. You can’t tweet once a day, post one Facebook status update a week or blog once a month and expect to have any meaningful interactions.
4. Make connections. Social media is fundamentally about making connections. This means answering questions from fans and followers, sharing links to great content, leaving comments on blogs and answering questions that people ask you about your business via Twitter, Facebook, and on your blog. Social media isn’t an effective business tool if you ignore the people who reach out to you.
5. Don’t stress about numbers. Yes, there is something ego-boosting about having lots of friends and followers but what’s more important is having the right followers. One hundred quality customers who follow you on Twitter and regularly engage with you on Facebook is more valuable than 1000 who do nothing. Work on cultivating a core group and chances are that you will find investing in social media is worth your time and energy.
6. Remember: it’s not all about you. Do you remember that time you went to a party and got stuck in a conversation with the person who talked on and on about herself and never asked you one thing about yourself? Don’t be that person or business on social media! Having a successful presence on social media depends on having two-sided conversations and creating communities of people who want to engage with you. People and brands who are successful on social networks have one thing in common: they give before they try to get (celebrities and the otherwise famous being exceptions to this rule).