Social engagement

As more and more companies begin jumping into social media, Tom Dennis has a warning: Social media is nothing more than another tool — one whose use requires careful planning and consistent management. In other words, you can’t just have random people at your company posting their thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites.

“That’s as bad as doing nothing at all,” says Dennis, vice president of Business Development at BrandExtract.

Dennis says that everyone at your company using social media should have the same description of your company on their profiles. And no one customer wants to get 10 Tweets at night directing them to information about your company.

“You have to have a strategy of how often you’re going to communicate and what you’re going to say,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Dennis about how to use new media to engage your customers and potential customers and how to use it to improve your products and services.

How can a business leader get started using social media?

One of the easiest things to do is write a blog. Focus on topics about your business, but be careful not to be too commercial or people will stop coming back. Pick the hot topics, the big, burning issues within your industry and share your thoughts on those. The idea is to get people coming to your Web site to read your thoughts on a subject and while there seek out other areas of your site for information about your product or service. It’s all about positioning yourself as a thought leader in your industry.

How often should you post information about your company?

It varies. It’s something you can do to stay in front of your clients. For example, you can update your status on LinkedIn or Facebook every day with a short description of what you’ve got planned for the day, such as going to a conference or going to hear someone speak. What you don’t want to do is post that you’re ‘going to lunch.’ One of the biggest mistakes people make with social media networks, including Twitter, is that they think they have to describe everything they do during the course of the day.

As with a company’s brand, the most important thing is to be consistent with the message. Once you make the commitment to having a presence on the Web or to start a blog, you have to stick with it. There is nothing worse than going to a company’s Web site and looking for ‘the latest news,’ and finding there hasn’t been anything posted in months or years. Many companies make the mistake of starting something, then the person who is responsible for managing the online activities leaves the company or changes positions and things flounder. When news isn’t kept current that’s almost worse than doing nothing at all, because it looks as if there’s nothing happening with your business. Once you make that commitment, it is critical that you keep it up and maintain it.

Most importantly, once you get involved in social media, have a strategy for it and be committed to it. Once people get used to seeing your brand out there and your company being visible through social media communities, they’ll keep coming back to see what you have to say and contribute their own ideas and thoughts to the dialogue.