Five New Ways to Communicate in Social Media

The challenge of all new media is to not use them like the old media. The stories are practically legendary: The first movies were filmed stage plays. The first TV shows were people reading radio scripts. The first Web sites were digitized brochures. It’s a fair assertion. A new medium appears, and it would be bizarre for us to imagine that the world would immediately understand precisely the best way to use it. It takes time, experimentation, and innovation.

With social media, we are moving to another era of use. During social media’s first wave, advertisers and marketers simply placed ads on the sites, taking advantage of the number of visitors to sites like MySpace and Facebook. The next wave involved integrating a company presence into a site and a community. The companies taking such great advantage of Twitter right now are the best examples. Dell offers customer service via the site, H&R Block provides tax support, and online retailer Zappos does just about everything via Twitter these days.

The next wave, though, the one we are entering into, fundamentally shifts the way companies use social media sites’ tools to communicate with their customers.

Currently, most companies use social media tools in many of the same ways they use their e-mail lists: sending out mass communications to everyone. But there are some absolutely remarkable communication tools built into sites like Facebook that allow you to reach out and interact in ways that are so new there aren’t even metrics for them.

Below are five ways to communicate with your customers via social media in ways built around the nature of the networks: direct connections with real people.

But first, please agree to my terms of service for this list by saying the following out loud: “I, [state your name], being highly concerned about my own reputation and the rights of all people everywhere using computers, promise that I will absolutely not use any of these tactics to spam people.”

Thank you.

Follow Your Followers

If you have an account on Twitter, and are inviting people to follow you, be sure to return the favor. That is, if someone follows you, immediately follow them. To make things even better, you should actually pay attention to what they are tweeting. If they write something you feel you (or your brand) can respond to in a relevant way, then definitely do it. Practice restraint, of course. If you sell snow tires and the person you’re following says something about commuting in the snow, you can say something. If they say something about their daughter’s flute lesson, best to keep quiet.

Tag Content

Tags are words added to items posted online that help organize content. Two of the most frequently tagged items are photos and videos. The reason is obvious: getting a computer to know the content of a photo or video is hard. Humans are better and more efficient at the task, and tags leverage that. When you post up a piece of content — say a photo to Flickr — you can add tags to it. Naturally, you should add tags that describe what it is (such as the product name), but you can also add tags you think would appeal to communities or interests. These can even be the names of communities or groups that you would like to see the content. The tag will be captured by search engines and make the content more findable.

Tag People

On Facebook, you can tag people inside of Notes, Photos, and Videos. That is, if you write a Note that mentions me, and you and I are connected, you can tag the Note “Gary Stein.” If that happens, I get a notification, as does everyone who is connected to me. That’s pretty powerful. If you have an asset and a relationship, as a brand you can take advantage of this. Let’s say you had a big gathering of your top users at your office and took some pictures. You can post those pictures and tag the people in them. This tactic is very powerful but definitely needs to be practiced with caution. Make sure the tagged person will be happy to know she’s been tagged.

Post Events

Events are at the heart of marketing and advertising. New product launches, campaigns, sales, and conferences fill up every marketing manager’s calendar. Marketers should begin to post these events in public calendars on regular social networks as well as on sites like Upcoming and Evite. The cool thing about this is that when people decide to attend (either by actually showing up somewhere or just deciding to buy a product on its first day available), that support is then broadcast to their whole network.

Post Content in Their Space

Similar to tagging someone, if you have an asset and a relationship, you can do something remarkable. Let’s say you have the first pictures of your new product. You can post it on your own site and get lots of traffic, of course. You could also post that photo on the wall of your biggest brand fan’s page on Facebook or MySpace. That way, you not only distribute the content but also strengthen a relationship. Again, this is the sort of tactic you must be very confident about engaging in.

Social media is, at its heart, about relationships and assets. These five ways offer approaches to leverage both of those elements in social media.

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