In Part 4 of this series: We discussed some of the recommended blogging best practices and general guidelines for creating useful content in your own unique blogging style.
In Part 5, we will continue discussing the basics of developing your social media strategy by reviewing some other recommended best practices and general guidelines for engaging your community—beyond the pages of your blog.
The Talk Nobody Wants To Hear
If we're honest, then we have to admit, when we considered getting involved with social media, we all had the same question:
“What's in this for me?”
It is a perfectly natural and totally legitimate question. As we have discussed throughout the series, more than anything else, effectively using social media requires a significant commitment—mostly measured in time.
Without question, the “opportunity cost” of social media is high, so you are right to question your return on investment (ROI).
This series is about using social media in a business context. Therefore, ROI is about far more than simply measuring the quality of your experience. I am not going to lie to you—measuring the ROI of social media is very challenging.
However, before we can even attempt to measure ROI, we must honestly evaluate why we are investing in the first place.
The primary reason I started blogging was to demonstrate my expertise and establish my authority with regards to data quality and its related disciplines. As an independent consultant, I am trying to help sell my consulting, speaking, and writing services.
You and/or your company are probably considering using social media to help sell your products and services as well.
However, the only way for any of us to accomplish our goals is—first and foremost—to focus on helping others.
This is the talk nobody wants to hear:
“Social media is NOT about you.”
Home Base = Connection, Outposts = Engagement
In Part 3, we discussed establishing a blog as your home base (where you have complete control), which is connected to your outposts (where you don't have complete control) that provide a presence out in other parts of your online community.
We also discussed how “connection is the message of social media's medium.” This is true. However, effective community participation is about extending connection into engagement—and this actually occurs mainly at your outposts.
As this trend analysis chart provided by PostRank shows, off-site (outpost) has surpassed on-site (home base) for engagement:
“Shift happens,” explains Shawn Rogers. “In the past many of us relied on the metrics of trackbacks, comments, forum posts, and other on-site interactions to determine the level of engagement we have with our online community. Over the past 3 years, there has been a noticeable shift in these numbers.”
I believe true community engagement has always occurred off-site, but what has changed in recent years is social networking sites (outposts) have rapidly evolved into truly effective services.
On-site (home base) connection is important and will continue to be—and true engagement can occur on your home base. However, because you are in control, it can sometimes seem like it's all about you—despite even your best intentions.
Therefore, effectively using social media requires that you go to where the conversations are occurring—your outposts—and participate without always trying to invite everyone back to your home base.
Outpost engagement best practices include the following:
- Promote the content of others far more often than you promote your own content
- If you use Twitter, then re-tweet more than you tweet (Note: a future part in this series will discuss Twitter in detail)
- Leave meaningful comments on other blogs—and only include a link to one of your blog posts if it is truly relevant
- Try to respond as promptly to a message left on one of your outposts as you would to a comment left on your blog
- If you blog about conversations that originated on one of your outposts, then properly attribute the others involved
Quality is more important than Quantity
How many followers do you have on Twitter? How many friends and fans do you have on Facebook? How many connections and recommendations do you have on LinkedIn? How many visitors, subscribers, and comments do you have on your blog?
Social media can sometimes feel like a popularity contest.
This is one of the many reasons that measuring social media ROI can often feel like you are searching for the Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster. No, ROI is not an urban myth. However, in social media, quality is more important than quantity.
Your outposts and listening stations (Part 2 and Part 3) provide excellent feedback loops allowing you to determine if you're effectively getting your message out and more important, if you're creating a noticeable online presence.
But true ROI is not measured in followers, fans, recommendations, subscribers, comments or other feedback. Although this analysis is useful and its associated metrics are meaningful, it is important to realize that this only measures connection.
True ROI is about measuring your engagement with the online community.
Engagement is about going beyond simply establishing a presence and achieving active participation. Are you adding value to the community by creating useful content and contributing something meaningful to the collective conversations?
Engagement is measured by the quality of the relationships you are able to form and maintain—and not the quantity of connections you are able to collect and count. Social media is a long-term investment in the community.
Therefore, the truth is you must be patient—your true social media ROI may take a long time to materialize.
Small Town, Big Business
Many organizations as well as individual professionals struggle to understand the value of social media because they attempt to relate to it using a traditional business perspective.
Most of the organizations I discuss social media with are very uncomfortable with being personal and acting human while participating in online communities—because they believe that would somehow be “unprofessional” behavior.
This viewpoint relates to a common misperception about social media—that “social” means “try to act like everyone's friend.”
However, we certainly don’t want organizations to try to act like (or try to become) our friends. In social media—just like any professional or personal interaction—the emphasis needs to be on transparency, which will help build genuine rapport and trust.
I believe the unrelenting growth and popularity of the online communities being facilitated by social media are driving the commercial landscape back to a business model reminiscent of small towns.
On Main Street in the small town where I grew up, I remember many small businesses.
Although I wasn't necessarily friends with the proprietors of these businesses, they weren't total strangers to me. I saw them around town, in the park walking their dog, on the playground with their kids, and at local sporting events.
In other words, I knew that in addition to being professionals who wanted to sell me something if I visited their business, they were also human beings who weren’t any different than the people I did call my friends.
Social media definitely has the professional potential of big business—but it requires the personal rapport of a small town.
Don't Ignore “The Man Behind the Curtain”
In this OCDQ Video, I discuss the importance of the human variable in the social media equation.
If you are having trouble viewing this video, then you can watch it on Vimeo by clicking on this link: OCDQ Video
In Part 6 of this series: We will discuss some of the books that have been the most helpful to my social media education.