So you’ve been hearing that you need to get involved in social media, but you’re not sure how to start. Below are what I see as the bare minimum steps. Many of you may be way ahead of me on some of these. I preface this by admitting that I am the proverbial cobbler with shoeless children. Sure, I write about social media, but right now my own efforts are rather half-assed. My only excuse: work, school, Faster Times writing (Yes, yes, that’s it. It’s all your fault).
1. Launch your website. There’s no excuse for not having one (except of course if it’s been in progress for years and you finally manage to get a placeholder site up, where it’s sat for months and months. Ahem.) Include such sections as About Me and Contact Me, including a good description of what you do. (Mine is not a good description. See previous placeholder comment.)
2. Create a blog. No, I don’t think blogs are dead. Well, at least I don’t think blogs with good content are dead. But don’t start a blog to write about your own life, unless you are a) either a fantastic or funny writer (see dooce) or b) fine with mainly being read by your mom, Aunt Mildred, and best friend Ginny. However, if you have a niche in which you’re an expert and have quality, unique content to add, by all means write about it.
And make sure you’re going to post regularly. It doesn’t have to be every day, but it should probably be at least every week, to keep people coming back. I’ve launched blogs previously but decided not to start a new one as I was beginning my grad program. I knew I’d have trouble keeping up with it—so I made Twitter my blog instead.
3. Set up a program like Google Reader for others’ blogs. While I check Twitter much more often these days, I still look at my RSS feeds from time to time and keep trying to pare them down to the really critical ones. While you can set up lists in Twitter (see below) to help catch stuff, there may be some people who still don’t tweet their blog posts (shocker, I know!), so you’ll need to maintain a RSS reader until they jump on the bandwagon.
4. Start a Twitter account and create a background. Start out by titling your account with either your name or the name of something else you want to brand (your company name, your book name, etc.). Don’t go cutesy: the idea is for people to remember it and remember what you do when they see it. This is the age of Brand You after all.
Then, create a custom Twitter background that provides all other pertinent contact info for yourself. These days, people may find you through Twitter versus your website or other social media sources, so you want them to be able to hop to your other online venues easily. (This, I don’t have yet.)
Also find people to follow and listen to before you start tweeting. Some ways to do this include searching on the Twitter homepage (enter in a name in the Search box, then click on People), typing in a name + Twitter into Google, viewing the recommendations based on who else you follow on the Twitter homepage, or clicking Twitter buttons on people’s websites and blogs. Take a few days at least to listen to people and see how they use Twitter, getting the sense of it.
5. Use a Twitter dashboard like TweetDeck. It enables you to view at a glance columns for people you follow, direct messages, tweets that mention you, even Facebook status updates. I recommend setting up columns with search terms that interest you—for instance your name or the name of your company if it’s not your Twitter name (those mentions will pop up automatically), or topics you’re interested in by using keywords and/or hashtags. For instance, each week after I post a Faster Times piece, I set up a search on keywords in the title so I can see exactly who is retweeting or mentioning it.
Also create and use lists to catch important tweets. It’s often said that Twitter is like a stream: you can step in and out and not worry about missing too much. In fact, that’s why I like it. However, there are some types of tweets you may not want to miss: those from your in-person friends, for example, or from people in your industry. I have a Twitter list set up for social media so I can quickly and easily catch up on all the important news.
6. Create a Facebook Page. If you have a company, create a page for it. It’s important that this be separate from your personal page—do you really want all your professional colleagues to see that your mom calls you sweetiekins? Go ahead and send it out to all your friends and ask them to “like” it, though. You don’t want to look lame with two people on there. You can do that a few times, but space the requests out—don’t harass people. Same goes for posting on this page; don’t overdo it. No, I can’t give you a number. Just keep in mind the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). People don’t want to be sold to, they want to be given benefits.
My Facebook Page for my freelance writing and editing? It’s in the works, and has been for a couple months. Sigh.
8. Set up a Linkedin account. While more and more people are using Facebook professionally for their companies, Linkedin is still the go-to place for individual professional accounts. You don’t need your clients to see you boozing with your friends at the corner bar.
I plan to cover Linkedin more later, but for now know that you should at least have a basic profile set up and search for friends to link to (let it mine your email accounts). That’s as far as I’ve gotten. As I have more time, I plan to share status updates, use Groups, explore company pages, and more. At the very least, Linkedin can help you track down people who may not be on Facebook. (Yes, they still exist.)
9. Link to social media accounts on your website. This is a no-brainer. Now that you’ve set up your Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin accounts, as well as your blog, throw big, visible buttons up on your website so that people can easily subscribe to them.
10. Explore other options but don’t get overwhelmed. You’ve covered the basics. Now pick and choose from among other options, such as developing YouTube videos or podcasts; creating an account on a social media sharing site like StumbleUpon or Digg; setting up an account on Quora, etc. But keep in mind that it’s better to use a few tools well than create 100 different social media accounts that will look like ghost towns because you never use them (like my Quora account, where I have 13 followers but have never written a question nor an answer).