How to gain expertise in communicating via social media

Paul Damico, President, Moe's Southwest Grill

Everyone is talking about social media. As a result, I’ve read dozens of articles on the topic to better understand what it means for business. I even have a team that manages it and sends me reports on a regular basis.

However, it wasn’t until I joined Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook myself that I began to truly understand it. When I started using these platforms for my own personal and social purposes, I began to get what the fuss was all about.

Not a spectator sport

Just like anything else, real-world experience adds more value than research alone. If you lead an organization, joining social networks gives you the opportunity to listen and respond to your employees, customers and fellow industry leaders, as well as spot trends and issues.

Don’t feel pressure to jump on Twitter, for example, and just start tweeting away. Ease into it. Follow people of interest and listen to the conversation. Watch how people use hashtags, @replies and retweets. Be yourself. And remember, it’s not supposed to be work, it’s supposed to be fun.

I would encourage you to begin as an average consumer and try not to think about it from a business perspective. Once you’re a comfortable user of a platform, the business aspect will come naturally.

Resist the ad urge

We can’t help ourselves. We read all about social media and how it can drive sales, and we feel inclined to join Facebook and blast ad copy. Resist. Try to think of social media as a public relations function rather than an advertising function.

Social media is about two-way communication and building relationships. So what’s important in a relationship? Honesty, transparency, sense of humor, listening and making people feel special. The same rules apply in social media.

As a business leader, social media provides you with the opportunity to connect one on one with your customers. Share what you have in common. Help them understand how your business fits into their lives. Let them participate in building your brand. Make a difference in their communities. Acknowledge and reward your biggest fans, and win back fans that had a bad experience.

While contests, promotions, deals and giveaways can be a lot of fun, remember there is value in building trust and loyalty through simply listening and responding on social platforms. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I say build relationships first, sell your product second.

Lead, follow and like

Whether you decide to join social media networks or not, your customers will be there talking about your brand. You can help lead the conversation, correct false information and attract new customers or you can leave that to someone else to do on your behalf. Taking a leadership position when it comes to social media will send a strong message, and your team will surely follow.

The way the world communicates is changing. Get on the bus and help lead the change.

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 430 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the foodservice industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at [email protected]