Imagine going in to your supervisor and telling her that you’ve just completed an amazing game of Scrabulous on Facebook. Show her your last 20 tweets on Twitter and see what she thinks of your grand scheme to get the word out about your products and services. Does your supervisor care which podcasts you think are great and which blogs you’ve commented on? How are you being measured? Truth is, you might be wasting your time with social networks, from a business only perspective. Unless…
**Lasers vs. Bombs**
First off, if you’re determined to market or build PR relationships using social networks, realize that the method is the opposite of what traditional marketing tends to use for methods. It’s not “how many;” it’s “where are the right people?”
It’s about leverage of finding people who care about your message, and gently introducing your information. If this doesn’t appeal, use what you know in the marketplaces where you already play. Don’t try porting what you do in other realms into social networks. It just won’t work.
If you accept that you’re willing to make a little extra effort, I think you’ll find the return is a little more exponential than traditional methods. By that, I mean that people in the social media / social networking space tend to move information out faster and further than other avenues.
**Understand the Mix**
Social networks are a mix of “not about you” and “okay to talk about you.” It’s an attention share, and various networks have different mixes. Twitter, for example, tends to shun link dumpers. Throw out tons of pointers to your cool new whatever, and you’ll be talking to yourself quickly.
Pay attention to the people that seem respected and part of the general flow. In Twitter this is easy. Start following people with reasonably large numbers of followers, and see how they act. And from there, baby steps.
**Be a Visitor First**
There’s a gap between knowing you might want to be involved in social networking, understanding what you hope to accomplish, and then understanding the lay of the land. First step, go slow. Don’t be afraid of building an account on these various networks, but use it to look around and listen for a few days. Get a sense of what people are doing, what seems acceptable, what isn’t.
Things to do early, if you’ve decided to investigate social networks as part of your marketing or media mix:
- Start an account on a few social networks. Fill out the profiles. Be honest about your gig.
- Look around. Listen. Get the flow. If it’s Facebook or MySpace, find a few groups to join. See how things go there.
- Regroup after a week and ask yourself whether these places are where your crowd hangs, if this is the kind of place where a conversation will be useful for your needs.
**Sink In And Seek Communities of Interest**
Social networks are self-selecting niche-sorters. Facebook is ideal for people offering up their interests, forming groups, and giving you an insight into who’s into what. By paying attention, taking note or what groups have people who share complementary interests, you can do a lot to understand who might be an influencer, and who might be interested in the conversations you’re looking to have.
Note that we’re talking about “conversations” and not messages. A message is an invitation to tune out. A conversation, that has value for both parties is a chance to move a message further along. This isn’t tricky. It’s how people talk and communicate when they’re not selling each other something. Or at least not selling overtly.
“Are you going to any conferences this year? Cool! I’m going to SXSW, a few PodCamps, and my company’s running one I think you might like called …”
There are no tricks. It’s genuine. The difference is that social networks are a place to find the people who might care about your products and services, getting to know them, and seeing if there’s interest.
**The Longer Play**
In sales, relationship selling is one strategy. The idea is fairly simple: instead of selling you XYZ product just to meet my quota, I actually listen to you, understand your needs, and suggest occasionally when my product might fit your need. The idea is that, over the long haul, my not being a predatory salesperson might lead to more overall business than if I just hit you hard and move on.
Social networks are about the longer play. They are about understanding a pulse and getting to know people in a community for who they are, and then knowing when you should have a conversation or not.
**To That End**
Social Networks can be a part of your marketing or PR or media strategy, but you might consider how much time you want to devote to those areas in a pure channel pursuit. If you determine that there are other benefits to using social networks, or broadening your methods to include conversational exchanges, then perhaps you might allocate a little more time to research it.
But do measure and consider and track and refine your methods. Don’t feel that because you’ve heard that you should be on Facebook or MySpace that it’s a matter of “doing time.” Your efforts need to be organic but mindful of your end needs.
In the end, social networks have tremendous value to marketers and PR professionals, but it just might not be the same value you originally expected. Try your hand, see where you feel comfortable, build around that, and who knows? Maybe you’ll proudly report just how successful your social networking efforts have been for your clients, and for yourself.
*Chris Brogan is a social media expert, focusing on how businesses and individuals can use tools like blogging and podcasting to build relationships of value. He blogs at [ChrisBrogan.com](http://chrisbrogan.com).*