In Part 1 of this series: I introduced the series premise, motivation, and intended format. I also provided disclaimers about my social media experience and my lack of affiliation with any person, website, event, product, or book that I recommend.
In Part 2, we will discuss leveraging social media for “listening purposes only.” This approach provides a passive (and safe) way to determine what (if any) type of active involvement with social media makes sense for you and/or your company.
You seek first to understand
Let's start with a few common questions about social media:
- Should every individual professional have their own blog?
- Should every company have its own blog?
- Should every individual professional actively use social networking sites (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn)?
- Should every company actively use social networking sites?
Some social media “experts” defiantly claim that the answer to all of these question is: YES!
However, the only honest answer to all of these questions is: Maybe.
As with everything in the business world, you should seek first to understand what social media can offer and what it requires, before making any type of professional commitment.
Both of those last two words are important—professional and commitment.
This series is about the art of effectively using social media in a business context. Therefore, we are discussing a topic about professional communication—which for both individuals and companies, must always be taken very seriously.
Using social media effectively, more than anything else, requires a commitment—mostly measured in time. As bad as many claim it is to not get actively involved in social media, believe me—doing it poorly does a lot more harm than not doing it all.
You say you want a conversation
Well, you know—do you really want to change your world?
The pervasiveness of the Internet and the rapid proliferation of powerful mobile technology is transforming the very nature of human communication, and perhaps most strikingly, business communication.
Social media is taking advantage of this amazing medium, enabling people separated by vast distances and disparate cultures to come together, communicate, and collaborate in ways few would have thought possible less than a decade ago.
We continue to witness the decline of print media and the corresponding evolution of social media. I believe the primary reason for this transition is our increasing interest in exchanging what has traditionally been only a broadcast medium (print media) for a conversation medium (social media).
So, returning to my paraphrasing of The Beatles that opened this section, I have to ask—do you really want a conversation?
In the business context of social media, conversations can occur on several levels. Just a few examples include:
- Between companies and their customers (including both prospective and former customers)
- Between companies and their employees
- Between employees and customers (in a less formal sense and beyond the walls of the workplace)
- Between employees (both within and beyond the walls of the workplace)
- Between customers
Only you can determine if you or your corporate culture is willing and able to properly participate in these conversations. Many rightfully argue that you may soon simply not have a choice. Therefore, if you are currently unwilling or unable, now is the time for you and your company to properly prepare—once again, a lack of preparation will do a lot more harm than good.
Of course, once you are properly prepared, you will be positioned to turn this challenge into a true competitive advantage.
Your worlds are colliding
We are becoming an increasingly digital society, and through social media, we are living more and more of both our personal and professional lives online, blurring—if not eliminating—the distinction between the two.
Later in this series, I will return to this topic and its implications for individual professionals. However, from a company perspective, there are digital walls that can prevent (or at least slow down) your worlds from colliding—the company intranet.
First, I recommend establishing a corporate policy regarding what is permissible for employees to say about the company on external social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well as other social media platforms, including the employees’ personal blogs. I am not advocating censorship—just some basic guidelines of professional behavior.
Next, I recommend evaluating an internal social networking platform such as Yammer or Socialcast (to name just two examples among many options) for employees to use while at the office for robust communication and collaboration. You might not have to block external social networking sites, but companies should strongly encourage that all work-related social networking be performed within the safety of the intranet and not out in the serendipitous “Series of Tubes” also known as the Internet.
Later in this series, we will discuss active participation in external social media (e.g., blogging) and social networking sites.
Before committing to active involvement in (external) social media, perform some due diligence by actively listening.
Dedicate time to reading the blogs within your specific industry or other areas of your professional interest. Pay close attention to the most frequent topics of discussion—especially in the comments section. Your goal is to learn as much as possible about the online community within which you are considering active participation.
Useful—and free—listening tools include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Google Alerts – receive e-mail updates of the latest relevant Google search results based on your choice of query or topic.
- Google Blog Search – search blogs (or the web) based on your choice of query or topic, which can be saved as a RSS feed.
- Twitter Search – Unlike other social networking sites, you don't need an account for read access to Twitter content. You can also save search queries as RSS feeds. If you are not familiar with how to use it, then check out my Twitter Search Tutorial.
- Google Reader – aggregate your research, websites, blogs, and RSS feeds into a single “listening station.”
Just like with any professional endeavor, honestly evaluate both your expectations and your readiness before you and your company get actively involved with social media in a business context. Diligent research and proper preparation are standard best practices—and there is absolutely no reason that these sound business principles should not also apply to social media.
I have also recorded the key points of this blog post as a podcast:
You can also download this podcast (MP3 file) by clicking on this link: Social Media Preparation
In Part 3 of this series: We will begin discussing the basics of developing your social media strategy by first examining the benefits of establishing a blog as your social media base of operations for effective online community participation.