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Social networking can seem like a bit of a wriggling octopus. You know you need to get to grips with it but every time you think you’ve got it nailed, a leg wiggles out and you lose your hold.

I do a lot of training on social media and the vast majority of people enter the room with a vague hunch that they are missing out and leave (all being well) wondering what they made all the fuss about… they hadn’t realised it was so logical. The fact is, we are all guilty of over-complicating things when they are ‘unknown’. Sometimes it just takes an open forum and some common sense discussion to realise the opportunities that something like social networking can have for your business.

The first place to start is in addressing the three elephants in the room…

Elephant number 1 – The emperor’s new clothes that will save the World

Over the past few years we have been told that mobile telephones, email and now social networking will change the World of business as we know it. It takes a pretty optimistic type to believe that outright, without a challenge. The fact is, social networking is just another tool in the box that we have to choose from. The best (dare I say it … the only) way to use it is as an integrated part of your marketing and communications strategy. Just as you would never tell customers/clients that you were stopping writing letters and were only going to text message them, neither should anyone suggest that social networking will replace more traditional marketing methods. What it can do, however, is provide a way of making them and your whole marketing plan more effective (in the same way that following up a letter with a phone call can be).

Elephant number 2 – time

The second concern that people mention is how they are meant to find time to sit on Twitter etc when they have a life and a business to run. There are two responses here. The first (and goodness knows I’m just as guilty of this one) is that sometimes you do just have to make time for your marketing… because if you wait until it’s quiet then you’ve missed the point of having a business development pipeline. Planning and setting aside time to market your business is at the crux of any growth. The second is that this time should be managed. I advocate a policy of starting the day with a good, large, mug of tea. When I sit down with it I look through my digests from LinkedIn groups, my RSS reader and my Twitter feed and I comment on anything that I think I can helpfully contribute to. When the cup of tea is finished
(usually about 20 minutes later), I put all of my social networking to one side and move on to ‘doing some proper work’. As time goes on you may find you wish to add in bursts (or tea-breaks) during the day… but to start with a controlled, finite amount of time to focus your thoughts is all you need to get going.

Elephant number 3 – I just don’t understand it all

I’m going to let you into a secret here. I do a lot of this social networking stuff and I don’t think I know very much about it at all. It all comes back down to that octopus. The nature of social networking is that thoughts and ideas flow more freely than ever before… and this leads to new opportunities, functionality and ‘ways to do it’ cropping up every hour. You are never going to know everything about it… and if you wait until you think you do… you’ve already missed the boat. I genuinely believe that social networking can be learnt as you go along. If you just trust me and jump in, you will learn what you need to through trial and error. You will learn what you need to know, as you need to know it… and if you don’t work it out for yourself then there are a host of people out there who are waiting to share their views and help (online, of course). You don’t have to go on a course to learn how to open your mouth and talk to people – you just learn as you go through it.  Yes, you can then go on a course to learn how to do it better… but you can get
started on your own. Social networking is simply a different way to talk to people. You don’t need to know very much more than just that.

So, what next? Once we’ve cleared up all the ‘negativities’ then it’s worth just clarifying why you should be bothering with it at all.

• The first reason is to give people different ways to find and communicate with you. You are able to change your marketing from just being a ‘push’ activity (ie. pushing marketing messages out to the unsuspecting public) to being both a ‘push’ and ‘pull’ (ie. creating a culture whereby people want to follow you so that your communications find them) activity. The more ways you communicate, the more ways people (and Google) can find you.

• The second reason is to talk the same language as your audience. As I’ve already mentioned, some people like to communicate by letter, others online.  If you miss out one of these communication channels you risk missing out on
all of that potential business. You need to be talking in the way that your customers/clients need you to talk.

• The third reason comes down to knowing your targets better. With all this information more readily available there are a host of opportunities for researching targets and understanding what makes them tick. By just taking the time to look around the various platforms there is a chance you’ll be able to really get to the bottom of the requirements/concerns that they have… and in turn structure your marketing and services to address them.

Next post… tackling the ‘Big Five’… Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and, of course, the destination… your blog and website.