Whether you’re just getting started with this whole social media bandwagon, or you’ve got 20,000 Twitter followers and no idea what to do with them, there are some basic principles that you should know if you want to use social media to your advantage.
Pillar #1: Focus on quality, not quantity
When engaged in an endeavor as complicated and subtle as social media, it’s hard to know how you’re doing, since there aren’t really any useful ways to measure effectiveness.
Unfortunately, this means people have reverted to relatively useless ways of measuring their effectiveness, such as the number of friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter, visitors to your blog, etc.
Social media isn’t a numbers game; it’s about building real relationships. You’re better off ten people who actually understand you and care about what you’re doing than 10,000 people who can’t remember your name or why they’re connected to you.
Pillar #2: Make it a two-way conversation
It’s tempting to try to apply traditional advertising and marketing techniques to social media, and to use it as a vehicle for one-way communication with an audience.
Those who take this route usually don’t last long, though, since people don’t respond well to someone talking at them rather than communicating with them.
Instead, focus on engaging with your connections. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Give them answers. Find out what makes them tick. Find out what value you can provide to them. And don’t just do this at a superficial level (occasionally replying to one of your thousands of followers), but really dig in and get to know the people you’re connected to.
As with so much else in life, the more you give the more you’ll get back in the long run.
Pillar #3: You don’t need to be viral to be successful
When the news talks about social media, they love to cover the “overnight sensations” that get a million views on YouTube in a matter of days. The stories you don’t hear, though, the majority of social media success stories that have taken months or even years to develop.
Get the notions of sudden stardom out of your mind, and focus on moving forward at a steady pace, methodically and intentionally building a community around your brand.
Don’t give up a week or two in, when you’re wondering why you’re not famous yet. Just keep moving forward.
Pillar #4: Come to people on their own turf
Instead of trying to bring people to your content, focus on bringing your content to the people.
For example, instead of posting a video on Vimeo.com and then trying to get everyone to visit that page, post it on Vimeo, and then also post it to YouTube, Viddler, and other major video sharing sites. That way people can see it on the site where they already have an active account (and friends), and are more likely to comment, share, and engage with your content in other ways.
Spread your content around. Decentralize. If you do this right, you may not even need your own website at all!
Pillar #5: Be original (even when it’s difficult)
One of the tricky parts about social media is that you’re expected to generate a lot of content. Suddenly normal, average people are expected to be writers, photographers, videographers, designers, etc.
It can be hard, and it’s tempting to slip into the habit of just reposting other people’s work. “Hey, check out this video” becomes a substitute for actually posting new content.
Unfortunately, reposting other people’s content provides very little value (compared to original content), and you wind up watering down your social media sauce. Nobody’s going to link to you linking to someone else.
You may not be able to post as frequently when you focus on original content, but people will notice when you do (and they’ll appreciate it).