I remember the thrill of getting my own phone line as a teen (this predated cell phones). My parents had strict phone usage “laws” that really put a cramp in my social life (or so I thought) so when I received my own line, it was so much more than just an apparatus to call my friends with. It was a means to connect — as often as I wanted and for as long as I wanted.
Social networking still gives me the same thrill of being a teenager with new found freedom. I use this silly personal example because it’s easy to forget that you’re not talking to a keyboard or monitor or avatar (for that matter). When you enter the world of social networking and online communities, you are dealing with individuals. You can’t just barge into a community, blog or bulletin board and announce that you are the guru of any given topic, any more than I could’ve picked up the phone, dialed a number and announced to that person that he or she was now my BFF (of course this was way before BFFs. I think we were just friends for life not forever, back then). You have to build relationships and take part in conversations much the way you would face to face. Even the sharpest of membership management software is designed to help forge connections, simplifying the process, not take the place of them. You can not simply buy software and expect it to create a community on auto-pilot. So how do you make social networking work for you? The same way you make friends.
Let’s pretend you fell off a turnip truck yesterday and need to get started hacking your way through the social media jungle. Grab your machete and let’s get started.
- Do your research – find out what others are doing around you; that means competitors, specialists, trend seekers, even your friends (who may be in totally different fields from you). How are they using social media/networks? You might be surprised what gems you collect from unexpected sources.
- Mimic – monkey see, monkey do. Find a successful entity to model your organization after. Can’t find one? Pick one who seems to be unsuccessful and do the opposite (I say this with only a modicum of joking. You really can learn from other’s mistakes).
- Subscribe to RSS feeds or enewsletters – Most industry people will tell you they do a lot of skimming. Skimming the Internet for content meaningful to them and their organization(s). RSS makes it easy. As you’re surfing the Net, when you find content you like, check for a little orange icon and click on it to request updated content be sent to you automatically. No RSS feed on the site? Use your bookmark feature instead of your favorites. Then those sites can travel with you no matter what computer you’re working (or playing) on.
- Blog, blog, blog – Yes, not all of us are gifted with the golden pen (or even a bronze one for that matter) but blogging has gone mainstream. Don’t worry about getting awarded a Pulitzer just get your message out there (but do run spell check, please).
- Comment on other blogs – Share your insight but make sure it’s relevant to the discussion. No one likes a buttinsky who changes topic to me, me, me. You can even insert your own site URL (if it makes sense within the conversation) to increase traffic on your site. Don’t overlook the micro-blogging sites. Finding (and being) followers on sites like these make connecting easier.
- Don’t try to do it all yourself – Why recreate the wheel? If companies are out there doing it better and more efficiently than you can at this time, seek their help. You may be surprised to know that YourMembership.com can provide a complete online member community that includes web-hosting, site design, networking/membership management, administrative tools, customer service and all future enhancements for one low price and they can have you live in 72 hours. Do you really need to take on the expense and time of doing something in-house that can be done elsewhere for less money and resources?
Just like your first dance, your initial foray into social media may be awkward at best but with the right tools, and the right attitude, you’ll grow from a wall flower to the belle of the ball in no time.