Wednesday, July 08, 2009

How Much Can We Realistically Expect from Social Media?

Frida Zjarr

Many of us dive into the social networking ocean without a plan or strategy, which can leave us drifting aimlessly at sea. No matter what our motivations - we want more business - we are afraid - we are feeling daring - we are feeling shy - we take the plunge and hope it will make a difference in some way to our bottom line.

So what can we realistically expect from social media?

1. Level 1- Awareness:
At the very least, social media exposes us to infinitely more people then in-person networking ever could. You cannot walk into a room everyday and introduce yourself to 100 new people. On Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In, you can easily provide a first-entry level of introduction, which means using your profiles to post links and photos, provide update of your news or your latest industry news, or introduce yourself to someone new in your industry, or a new industry you would like to learn more about. Social media is also a great equalizer. Unlike at a party, where you may have to rely on someone else introducing you to the person you've been admiring for years, you can go for it on your own by seeking followers and friends, or, if your content is strong and you are doing your communications "homework," many of the right people (influencers) will find you. That is what happened to me to a certain extent on Twitter, when I was excited to learn about a month ago that my social guru "heroes," Chris Brogan and Darren Rouse (Problogger), were following me. Cool!

2. Level 2 - Engagement:
Once people are in your network and have a minimal level of involvement with you, you can take the plunge and try and go a step further by direct messaging them, commenting on their blog posts, subscribing and maybe even contributing to their newsletters, offering to guest blog, etc. For many social media strategists, this is really the heart of the matter, as it paves the way for Level #3. With the social networking arena being so crowded, you will never be noticed unless you really stand out from the crowd somehow. But don't stand out for the sake of standing out. You must be authentic, and have real ideas and resources to communicate. Sometimes, you will hear back from them and sometimes you won't, as different bloggers have different best practices when it comes to this. I think it is very important to validate the folks who've taken the time to comment on your posts, and I tend to frown on those who don't. In any case, take the initiative and get involved.

3. Call to Action:
For many of us, floating around levels 1 and 2 for a while, maybe even a long while, is going to be the predominating behavior. If we have a service to sell, such as coaching, for example, we are dead without a freedownload offer, a white paper, an audio course, or an e-book to sample, and then sell. Online marketers get this, and that's why they spend so much time refining landing pages, creating inviting videos, and trying to make the call to action something that sticks. It's my belief that even if you do everything right, getting to #3 is by far the trickiest aspect of social networking, because many of us buy or not, for many different reasons, and we respond positively or negatively to different factors. For example, whenever I see yellow highlighter copy on a landing page, I think yuk, this is an obvious marketing tactic and I sign off as fast as you can say "unsubscribe." When someone makes the case, however, for a good quality, well thought out product that I can't get anywhere else, and that I need pretty quickly, I'm going to go for it. So, if we can get to Level #3, and we find the right combination of authenticity and value, we will find our oasis in the sea. If we don't, we will stay adrift, and most likely never reach our destination. So, hoist your sails and begin your voyage.
But first, you need to ask yourself:

What level are you at with your social networking, and what can you realistically expect from it?

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