Both last week at SXSW and lately, back home in Seattle, I’ve been having similar conversations about the power of social media. People marvel about how something tweeted with a hashtag specific to an industry, for example, has the potential to be seen by so many people. Often the decision is made, on that point alone, for a business to jump onto the two most familiar networks, Twitter and Facebook. Then comes the disappointment, and the myth busting truth: if you’ve got no relationships, posting to Twitter or Facebook doesn’t do a thing for your long term brand awareness or influence. However, if you actually do the time to build relationships on the front end of your social network foray, you will win – and big.
I do a lot of work around the specifics of Twitter and relationship building, so will use that network in particular to demonstrate some of my findings over the years:
Take it slow. The idea is not to do a lot of posting in the first few months. Instead, spend that one or two hours a week you’ve allocated to social media to do searches on your topics of interest and start to follow the people who are sharing links in those areas. It is worth noting that when I mention “topics of interest,” I mean the two to three key examples you have filtered down to that involve the most strategic conversations your business wants to be part of. This may involve a painful whittling from all the amazing things your business is brilliant in, I realize. Just do it.
RETWEET (aka RT)
Once you’ve identified a few topics, follow those streams of conversations and start to RT the posts that link to articles you find extra informative. When you have an authentic response, try to add a few words of your own. For example, you might add “thought-provoking” to the RT of a link about new research. Then, do more. If there is a particular writer who covers the industry that fits with your selected topics, follow that person closely and use their Twitter handle when you post about their work. That’s right. Take the extra step to note the name of the article’s author and include the appropriate handle in your RT. Or, if an article you’ve come across via a Tweeted link mentions a Twitter-active researcher, add “research from @famousscientist” when you RT.
As you work through this process you build trust, and you’ll see people RT-ing and thanking you in return.
START CURATING AND CREATING
After getting a start on relationship building, you can begin to consider your content strategy. Realize that this will include both curation (finding and sharing great content you know will be applicable to your selected topic conversations) and creation (blog posts, videos, images that you develop yourself and that reflect expertise and thought leadership in your industry). In other words, planning a “content strategy” doesn’t mean your whole company has to start writing unique blog posts weekly, but someone or some team of people should keep a look out for good research and bits to share from other people. In addition, that team will want to develop some type of editorial calendar for the organization. Manage both the internal processes and external expectations of what and how often you share right out of the gate, especially:
Notice what sorts of things you tend to respond to and want to share. Then, think about how you can produce a similar mix or style of content.
Do not post and walk away from your Twitter dashboard. Do not notice a RT, think “how nice,” and forget about it. Do not see yourself included in some sort of #followfriday list and leave your computer without a posting a thank you. These are among the different types of connection opportunities you will get, so monitor your feeds and conversations and act like a real person. Show that you’ve noticed and appreciate a share or mention.
If you post and someone RTs the post (often within the next hour, as has been my anecdotal experience), thank them right away. If you have added to the #sustainability conversation, for example, keep track of that stream for a little while after you’ve posted and see if anyone else contributes something complementary to your post. If you do see that, say hello and RT them. As well, when you are mentioned in someone’s #followfriday or #ff list, it is common courtesy (and shows relationship building smarts!) to RT. You can delete your handle if need be to stay within the character limit, with a “Thx” or some such abbreviated sentiment included. Then, watch how others interact around #ff or #ecomonday, for example, to get ideas for the next time.
In addition, consider taking the opportunity to go deeper and off-network to engage. When someone tweets a link to their own blog post, and you take time to read that post AND comment, your gesture will be noticed and is likely to be returned within your own blog post comments at a later date. Social engagement and relationship building don’t occur solely on the networks themselves. You get bonus points for venturing off the social media dashboards and over to that old-fashioned world of web sites and blogs.
USE WHAT YOU LEARN
Though what I’ve written about here is Twitter-focused, the idea is to get more practice and comfort with this type of back and forth of “social” engagement, in general. It will translate to some degree for any other channel you choose to participate in. LinkedIn is becoming more business content and conversation friendly, for one. I’d also keep an eye on Google+ and any of the other networks where your very particular audience of influencers engages already (that could be Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and so on).
And, don’t shy away from the cheerleading and the informal, friendly discussions that go on in your particular circles. Instead, figure out a way to get comfortable doing a bit of that yourself. If someone posts that they are honored to have been appointed to a Board position or to have been selected for a key speaking engagement, and you have already forged some type of relationship, go ahead and Tweet: “Go Nancy” or “So psyched for you.” If you truly feel that way about your Twitter friend, it will come across with authenticity and appreciation – which could well be returned when you’ve got something exciting to announce yourself.
Finally, think influence, not numbers. When you invest the time in relationship and trust building on social networks, it will be the influence levels – not the count – of the people who re-share your news that give it the most impact with more strategic audiences. Without that front-end time and research investment, your posts may technically reach a lot of people, but very few who see them will care or share.