Monday, January 05, 2009

Key Questions on Social Networking: What to Do with People Once You Have Them?

I have read a lot over the last few weeks on new trends for 2009 in social networks and beyond. Everyone says Twitter is not only "in," but going to be really big. Facebook and My Space are of course huge, as are some of my favorite sites, including Goodreads for booklovers, and others. But the question remains: what does really big mean, and what do you do with all these "people," (meaning readers) once you have them?

"Really big" translates to "really effective." You can have many people linked to your site, but it only takes one to make that all important lead or sale. That is why when someone has chosen to follow me on Twitter, I make sure and review their web site and their tweets to see if I want to follow them. If whatever they are chatting about is not relevant, I don't want to waste my time.

Facebook is a good example. Over the holidays, I recently connected with many old college friends. There were many exclamation points and questions...what are you doing now?...What ever happened to?...Do you remember when we all used to hang out in the snack bar until 2 am and talk about Proust...and/or Madonna? Some people posted photos of their lives then and now, and links to their current activities. I realized at the end of the day that as much as it was great to reconnect with all these people, I didn't really know what else to do at that point, except highlight my links, post to my "wall," and continue the online "party," as social engagement.

But my theory is that where business is concerned, you have to reach your audience on a valuable level on a continued basis, meaning that not only do you want them to subscribe, to continue to subscribe, and to work virally for you, that is, to think your information is so valuable that they must pass it onto others. In other words, the "party" has to get somewhat serious in order to be useful.

At the most minimal level, you want to engage them, maybe by telling colorful stories, establishing yourself as an authority in a given area, or surprising them in some way. They may never "buy" anything from you, or become a member of your organization, but they will still find you interesting and know you exist. And there is always a chance they will become a valuable colleague or lead in the future.

At the moderate level, you want them to follow your call to action, whatever it is, either by forwarding your site or profile, as mentioned, ordering a free resource such as book or white paper, signing up for a teleseminar, etc. You also want them to engage in online dialogue, such as commenting on your blog or forum.

At the maximum level, if you are in this as a business, you do want them to purchase, join, or become a stakeholder in some way. This should come as a natural extension of their previous connection with you. If they are already subscribing to your publications, they have made a commitment to you on some level and should be interested in your products and/or services.

So what you want to do is: entertain, engage, encourage reliability and trust, educate, establish your brand, and move people. Ultimately, you want people to be interested in your opinion, whether they agree with it or not, and whether they themselves are experts on the topic. What you do not want to do is: overcommunicate, duplicate what others are saying (providing unique content is a must), confuse your audience in any way, or "overmarket," that is, provide too much information on yourself or your products without asking more about your readers and your audience. You also never want to overpromise and underdeliver, or deliver something different than you promised.

So my prediction for 2009 is that those who really get these concepts under their belt will get the most out of social networks and new media. As for Proust and Madonna, I feel pretty much the same way now as I did back in college. Read my blog this year to find out. And it doesn't have to be at 2 am.

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