5 Tips to Avoid Social Media Overload

twitter-montage1With myriad social media choices out there it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the choices. Until recently I was a pretty passive user of social media (SM) sites; a visit to Reddit here, a LinkedIn visit there, but nothing too over-the-top.

For small businesses, it’s easy to hide your head in the sand, and avoid the fact that social interaction online is more than just the latest phase for Gen Y kids, but rather, it’s a real evolution of how people of all generations interact with their peers, their “offline” social networks, their business associations, and the companies that they choose to do business with. It’s as true for the Starbucks of the world as it is for the Liquid Highways of the world. (It’s just that Starbucks has a staff to manage their social media activities.)

So for those new to social media, here’s a brief, terribly opinionated list of tips for getting into social media without getting overwhelmed:

1. Realize that social media is an add-on to traditional marketing, not a replacement.

At the risk of offending the social media mavens out there, social media is not a replacement for all of your marketing needs, maybe at some point in the future, we will all interact with live streams through mall kiosks and our iPhones will recommend, order, pay for, and apply the latest ointment mentioned by our Twitter followers for us as we pass a drugstore, but for now, most people in the US are not members of the “right” social sites. In fact, I actually know (in the meat-sphere) more people who still subscribe to newspapers than have Twitter accounts.

Yes, online video viewership is climbing, and newspapers are struggling to stay afloat, but people still watch network TV, read magazines, see billboards, listen to local radio, etc. Social media is a great add-on to reach people who don’t use “old” media, just don’t forget that the US Post Office still delivers the mail to most people’s front door 6 days a week; do you think direct mail will end because the Burger King has 217,000 Facebook fans?

2. Baby Steps… Baby Steps

So where to start? Well, wherever you want, there’s no real starting place. Take a look at what your overall marketing goals are, and who your customers are, that will usually give you a clue. But for the love of Pete, DON”T JOIN THEM ALL RIGHT AWAY!

A good start for the business inclined is LinkedIn, as they say:

LinkedIn is an interconnected network of experienced professionals from around the world, representing 170 industries and 200 countries. You can find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals that you need to work with to accomplish your goals.

Facebook is another good place to start, where LinkedIn is strictly business, Facebook is much more “relaxed.” You’ll notice as you visit each site, they all have their own “feel.” Join a couple, join one, hang out for a while before you start your takeover of the Social Media world.

Don’t know where to start to find your clients or customers? For the love of Pete: ASK THEM! Take a survey, ask them as they make a purchase at the register, look at their websites, send them a mailing, whatever, if you’re looking for more people like the ones who already buy from you, who better to ask?

3. Learn the rules before you start breaking them.

Each site has a set of overtly stated rules, but perhaps more importantly, just like off-line communities, each has a set of unwritten rules of etiquette. Take your time, take a look around, and learn the rules before you barge into the party. What is taboo on one site might be just fine on another. For example, on Redditt, posting a link to your own blog which has a link to something else on the web is considered blogspam, and will be ignored, and or booted into oblivion, while posting that same link on Twitter seems to be generally accepted. (I say seems because, I am relatively new to Twitter, and well, I might not know.)

For the Love of Pete, DON’T JUST JOIN AND START SPAMMING THE SITE WITH LINKS TO YOUR EMPORIUM OF WONDERS. Nobody likes that. In fact, think of any of these sites like cocktail parties, don’t be that guy that everyone tries to pass off to someone else while he blathers on about what a great Real Estate Agent he is. Just don’t be that guy.

Take a look at how your competitors are using these SM sites, or companies that have nothing in common with you at all. Gather ideas. See what you would react to, and duplicate with your own twist. There are major brands out there using SM in unique ways. For example, two of the brands I am following on Twitter are @rubbermaid and @BHPhotoVideo: both are using Twitter in very different ways, and both seem to be successful. See which one works for you. Follow, follow, follow.

Once you’ve got the lay of the land, then it’s time to start exploring how you can use your chosen SM site. Own a bakery? Join Twitter and tweet when the fresh stuff comes out of the oven. Own a Real Estate office? Start a Fans of Ong’s Hat, NJ page on Facebook. Work for a non-profit? Your donors and/or members are already on all of the SM sites you can find… find them, connect to them there, not just when you’re asking for money. Own a music store? Start a subReddit for your particular interest, or use your delicious account to gather all of the Bavarian Ukulele videos on YouTube in one place.

Oh, this is all on top of your website & blog, OK? ;-)

4. Start getting used to managing multiple accounts.

With so many different social media sites out there, the rise of the social media manger sites is just beginning. Sign up for one early, for a couple of reasons: 1) it will help you manage who you know from where (this could get confusing quickly), and 2) they can help you find new sites you don’t already know something about. I’m currently using Retaggr, and PeopleBrowsr (What’s with the cool, web 2.0 ends-in-just “r” thing?)

Bonus Tip Sub-List:

  1. Choose your ID’s carefully – No matter why you’re taking the plunge into social media, try and use the same profile name. Most (most) of my profiles are under mikeconaty, it’s easier to remember on my end, but it’s also essential in establishing your brand. Nothing like having fredsfloweremporium on one site, DeathMetalBlooms on another, and PrancyTheFlowerDude on another. (Besides, PrancyTheflowerDude is just weird.)
  2. Get a Gravitar – Another essential in branding yourself or your company’s SM presence is to have a standard avatar for each of your profiles. A Gravitar is a globally recognized avatar and makes your life a bit easier when posting replies on other blogs or establishing a new account on a new site.
  3. . And for the Love of Pete: don’t just throw a smaller version of your company’s logo up, and call it an avatar. It’s SOCIAL media, use your face… and smile…and sit up straight…eat all of your veggies too.

  4. Don’t rely on one password – while it’s great to have one ID that stretches across SM sites, it is a REALLY BAD IDEA TO USE THE SAME PASSWORD. Don’t just rely on your browser’s password manager either. If you have to revert back to hand writing them down, do it. Or find a software/or hardware manager.

5. Social is supposed to be fun.

It’s VERY easy to join a bunch of SM sites, and spend most of the day “playing” on them. For the love of Pete: DON’T. You still have to “make the donuts” so set aside a time every day to do the social media thing. After hours, before you open up for the day, whatever works into your schedule. Set a time, and stick to it. Then, as you get used to what it takes to manage all of this stuff, pop on from time to time to keep up, or update, or connect.

Twitter (my new favorite this can’t you tell) is great for this. I can pop on at almost any time of day, and ask a question, or answer one, or just goof off for a minute… it’s like walking down the hall for a cup of coffee and popping your head into someone’s office. For those of us who work alone for much of the day, it’s a virtual office full of people to say hey to, or bounce an idea off of, or learn something from.

Believe it or not, this can all be fun. You can connect with old associates, classmates, neighbors, and customers all at the same time. They call it Social media for a reason. It’s about connecting with people, one-on-one, sharing not selling. As I said above, it’s like a cocktail party, just don’t be that guy who everyone hates to see walk through the door, and you should do fine.

For the love of Pete, this all sounds like so much work. Then, just try out one. If you do, find me and say hi.

Bonus Tip Sub-List #2:
If you join Twitter, here are a few folks I recommend following (other than me, of course):

  • @newmediajim – Camera Operator for NBC in Washington. Fascinating behind the scenes stuff, and a hell of a good guy.
  • @thomasclifford – THE Director Tom. A great resource wrapped up in a swell fellow.
  • @podcaststeve – A NJ Social Media legend
  • @thebrandbuilder – One of those guys who’s always thinking
  • @chadengle – One of the most helpful people I’ve met on Twitter
  • @JasonFalls – One of my favorite thinkers on Twitter
  • @LynnMcFarlane – A NJ Twitterer, a great conversationalist.