Social Media Requires You to Be Social to Be Successful

As a social media consultant for my clients, I occasionally get sent links to some bizarre tools, services, and “odd stuff” to look at, examine, and check out for validity. I was just sent a link to a service that automatically generated “social media” messages for people who signed up for their service and I had to pause and think about how this could actually do more harm than good to any serious social media marketing campaign.

Everyone wants to jump on the social media marketing bandwagon these days. Why wouldn’t you? With all the success of Old Spice, Ford, Whole Foods, Dell, and many more, it makes sense to go that route. If you look at it from a very high level view, you might think these feats of accomplishment were easy things by these companies. But it’s far from easy.

As social media marketing and the sites and communities people are sharing in become more mature, it takes a lot more to find success. It’s not as simple as setting up a profile in Facebook and hoping that your fans will come. You can’t just toss a video onto YouTube and hope for viral success, no matter how good looking the guy in the towel is you have starring in the video. There has to be some serious research, strategy, measurement, and engaging going on.

Engagement is probably the key to it all. After all, social media does have the word “social” in it. Just pushing your messages out there, loading up your commercials, or putting your marketing slicks on Scribd is not likely to get you far, no matter how much someone tells you that you “need” to have an account. The part of the “set and forget it” equation with social media that agencies and companies tend to forget is that you need to actually go out and engage in these communities.

There are many elements to why engagement is important. From search engines finding relevancy to social media users actually knowing about your presence, engagement has to be a central piece to any social media strategy. Just as important as measuring what you’re doing and understanding who you’re targeting, making sure you’re sharing and engaging with the communities you’re looking to market in is essential.

With that all said, I don’t suggest jumping in immediately and acting like a know-it-all in your chosen forum. There’s a lot of advantage to first researching your community before you start trying to be a social butterfly. By first observing and listening to the community, you can identify your influencers, detractors, and the “normal Joes” who are active in the community, and choose how best to engage with them before you even type one word.

There are some automatic tools out there, like the ones I mentioned earlier, that seem to make implementation of your social media strategy a lot more efficient. The trouble with these tools is that the automatic generation isn’t actually from you or your company, and eventually the audience will find out that it’s not you engaging. If you set up the expectation that it’s members of your company’s staff that are engaging and then switch to an automatic method, people will notice and all your hard work will be for nothing.

That’s not to say that tools like don’t have their place. These tools are extremely helpful to any social media strategy, especially one where time is a valuable resource and it’s better spent with your employees actually engaging rather than posting your latest blog posts on your Facebook wall or Twitter stream. It’s a point of expectations that you set with your audience.

Audiences are not keen on being “tricked” and they will shout from the mountain tops if they suspect that anything is out of the ordinary or has changed for what they perceive as the worse. That’s why in your social media strategy it’s important to set the right expectations when you start engaging with the audience.

Social media can be very resource-intensive and that’s why automated social media tools can be appealing. Some companies make the mistake of starting off “gangbusters” in social media and finding out they cannot maintain that level of activity in the community, and turn to tools like these to try and solve the issue.

Answering questions, asking opinions, and sharing thoughts and ideas are all human engagement opportunities with your target audience that you can’t get from automation or by setting up a profile in a social media community. Being “social” in social media can lead to a lot of success if planned out properly…just resist the urge to try and totally automate your strategy – it can lead to more failures than you ever anticipated.

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