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Social Media Spotlight: How to Get Started in Social Media

April 14, 2011
at 2:08 pm PST

Over the past few years, so many partners and even Cisco employees have asked me time and again “How do I get started in social media?” Having heard that question so often, it seemed to me that before we use our new Social Media Spotlight series to highlight best practices when blogging, or using Twitter or Facebook, we should explain how to get into the social media game.

I myself came to social media by way of journalism, so when someone asks me how to get started, I usually turn around and ask the person who’s talking to me, “What do you want to achieve in using social media?”

Perhaps you’re not certain what you want to achieve, beyond knowing that you want to use social media at your company. According to a recent survey conducted by IPED and commissioned by Cisco, about 50% of partners are interested in learning how to expand online engagement to drive business. Does that include you? Then read on for some advice on how to start process.

1) Identify Your Goal(s)

Defining what you want to achieve is the major starting point—if you haven’t used social media before, and you are looking to get started, you need to ask yourself what you want to use social media for—what is your goal?

For most businesses, social media can help amplify your company’s message, help you engage with your customers, start conversations, and deepen relationships. So keeping that in mind, you should start thinking about a social media plan by developing a list of clear goals. It should be more than just gaining followers and fans. While gaining followers is one metric, the conversation, interaction, and even leads you generate are important ways of measuring success.

Once you have that list of goals (my rule of thumb is that two or three is ideal) then your next step will be to identify which social media vehicles align with those goals.

You definitely shouldn’t just decide, for instance, that you want to set up a Facebook fan page because everyone else has one. Before making that decision, you should ask yourself, “What is the purpose? Who am I trying to reach, and why? What sort of information would I share? Why would people become fans?” You need to define what you want to achieve in social media, and align your goals with that purpose.

2) Identify Who Will Manage your Presence

Don't set up your social media presence and expect that people will be interested just because of its mere existence. Cultivating a community takes time, trial and error, and patience.

Before you start, identify who will manage your social media. Will you appoint a marketing person? Do you have multiple people who will post? The Social Media Examiner (a great site I often read for social media insights and best practices) offers some tips on selecting the right community manager.

3) Listen First, then Talk

You should always start by listening, then jumping into the conversation. Jumping onto Twitter or any social media platform without first listening to the discussion is the equivalent of going up to people at a cocktail party and yelling in their faces without introducing yourself or listening to their discussion first.

By listening to customers and those in your field first, then engaging directly based on what you hear, you develop a conversation, trust, and respect. (For your start in listening, social media expert and author Chris Brogan has some useful tips in his piece Grow Bigger Ears in 10 Minutes. In the same vein, don't start blasting out one-way marketing messages, which is usually treated as spam. Social media is a dialog, a two-way discussion.

And that’s really the purpose of social media—to create trust and foster conversation. You have to engage, be willing to listen, and willing to interact. Getting into social media cannot be a passive exercise—you have to be willing to devote time and energy to it, in order to see results.

4) Start Small

It's best to use one tool really well than to do everything at once. Don't create a blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account in one day and try to manage those singlehandedly. Start out with one tool, learn how to use it well, build relationships, and only then branch out in something else.

Suppose, for instance, that you want to develop your relationships with customers, and maybe even identify new ones. If that’s the case, then Twitter would be a good place to start. On Twitter, you can start following others in your field, and also follow your customers, listening to what interests them, what they are looking for, and what’s top-of-mind. You can start tweeting a few interesting articles, retweeting things you like, and introducing yourself to fellow tweeters.

Here’s what a few social media experts in the field have to say about getting started:

“Showing up in social media to dip your toes in the pool isn’t all that useful. It’s fun and it might prove that you’re using all the cool kid toys, but if you’re not building on something tangible, then there’s nothing worth doing. Caveat to that: it’s okay to not understand how you’re going to achieve these goals right out of the gate. Part of the process is to actually understand the medium and figure out how to best use it.” – Chris Brogan

“Just like in online dating, the way to begin is to start finding your customers online and merely eavesdropping to see where they are, and to understand what they do in that space. Once that’s done you select a social media platform that many of them use and begin to engage them. You create an appropriate persona and begin courting, giving away enough about yourself to attract interest, flirting and chatting your way into the lives of others until a loyal bond is formed.” – Social Media Today

“To connect with the social consumer here and now, we must be part of the community. We must approach business and the business of marketing and engagement with the same resolve we approach our own social networking. We must become the very people we’re trying to reach, because ultimately, we are consumers and we are stakeholders in the evolution of our social relationships and experiences.” – Brian Solis, author of "Engage"

"Instead of speed dating your way to interruption, instead of yelling at strangers all day trying to make a living, coordinating a tribe of 1,000 requires patience, consistency and a focus on long-term relationships and life time value. You don’t find customers for your products. You find products for your customers." -- Seth Godin, best-selling marketing author

“If you don’t value relationships, you will never value social media. Use social media to create a culture of sharing." -- Charlene Li, co-founder of the Altimeter group and author of the book "Groundswell"

Next up in this series, we’ll take a look at how to start blogging. Got any social-media related questions? Be sure to share in the comments, we’re here to help!

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