Social Media: Don't Miss the Forest for the Trees
The Social Media phenomenon is quickly becoming a part of everyday life. Old friends are contacting you to join Facebook, the local news is "tweeting" stories, and almost every website you visit offers different ways to share, broadcast, or otherwise promote content. Businesses are finding that the power of social media extends far beyond its benefits for personal use. And senior care organizations are using this new communications tool to connect with the increasing number of seniors and family caregivers who are active in online communities. But there is still considerable confusion about what social media is and how it should be used. Before we go any further, here are the two most important things you should know about social media:
- Social media is not a type of technology; it is a new method of communication.
- Unlike previous forms of online communication, social media allows for a two-way conversation between you and your audience.
It’s What You Do, Not How You Do It
Don’t confuse the concept of social media communications with a specific networking platform used for social media, such as Facebook or Twitter. Social media platforms come and go, but you should consider social media communications a permanent part of your outreach plan, regardless of what specific tools you are using. Maybe Facebook will be around forever; maybe in a few years it will be surpassed by an even more popular platform. But if you are using social media in the correct way, you will be able to easily adapt your online communications strategy to whatever tools and platforms are most popular with your audience.
REMEMBER: Social media is a new channel of communication, not just one specific platform or web technology that you use to communicate.
Joining the Two-Way Conversation
Now that we are clear on what social media is not, let’s talk about what it is. Social media can be a platform for creating content and promoting it. Social media can also be a venue for responding to content and framing a larger conversation. Users on the internet can respond to content and interact with your brand or business in a meaningful way. This two-way conversation allows you to talk with your clients—not just at them—and that can be a powerful tool for establishing and fostering your online presence.
For example, to publicize her services, a geriatric care manager might run a print advertisement in the local AARP bulletin. The typical reader will skim through the ad, perhaps make a note of the information, and move on, hopefully with some retained awareness of the GCM’s business. To supplement her marketing strategy, the GCM can also create regular Facebook posts on a variety of topics of interest to potential clients and referral sources. Users can comment on posts and ask questions, read what others have to say, and easily forward the information to other friends.
One factor that undoubtedly contributes to the confusion surrounding social media is the abundance and diversity of social media platforms. Social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn allow you to cultivate a large network for sharing and discovering information. Twitter offers an easy “micro blogging” format for quickly broadcasting content. Other sites such as Flickr, YouTube and Vimeo allow for the hosting of rich-media content. Blogs and news aggregators, such as Digg and StumbleUpon, collect popular content and promote it even further. There are even sites such as Brizzly which help you consolidate all of your social media platforms into one distinct portal.
With so many choices, it's easy to become overwhelmed, and it can be very hard to determine what platform offers the best opportunities for you. For example, at first glance Twitter and Facebook might even appear redundant, both offering the same type of social media experience. But there are big differences between the two sites, not only in the way they present information to users, but also in the ways that they allow users to experience and promote the content they find.
Don’t assume that just because you are reaching people on one site, such as Facebook, that you are using social media to its full potential. As in all traditional communications efforts, integrating your message across multiple media channels ensures reaching your maximum potential audience.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Post!
One easy way to begin is by opening accounts on three of the most popular social networking platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. These three platforms will give you the chance to foster a large network of contacts. Try to be consistent in your tone of communication across each of these sites. Use the same profile picture on each site so that friends, followers, and contacts can easily identify you within their own network. After you have established your presence on each of these sites, it is time to start growing your network and adding your voice to the conversation.
If you have an online newsletter, you can start by posting a link to it on these sites and inviting people to click through to it. You can also post information about upcoming events, notable news or happenings, or follow-up information about past events. You can add information or news items that are relevant to your industry, and you should seek out other organizations and businesses that you work with. Treat social media not just as an opportunity to reach potential clients and customers, but also an opportunity to interact with peers and partners. Your posted items can be forwarded or promoted by members of your network. Also, be sure to add links on your company's website and online newsletter to your new Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts, and visa versa. All of your communications should integrate.
And take advantage of integration between the different social media platforms. Most sites offer the ability to seamlessly "push" updates to other sites. Even though you are developing an online presence across multiple platforms, you shouldn’t have to spend all day posting the same information in different places! Link all of your accounts together so that you just have to post one item. This is valuable not just for the sake of convenience, but also for consistency.
Doing It Right: Listen, Participate, Repeat
Once you’ve started to develop your online presence, and you are on your way to developing a social media strategy for your business, it is time to listen, participate, and repeat. Keep those three words in mind to make sure that your online presence stays active and relevant.
Listen: Make sure that you are aware of what your network is talking about, what other organizations in your industry are broadcasting about, and what other people in your network are responding to.
Participate: Broadcast relevant material for your network to read or view. It doesn’t have to be much, but it should be fairly regular. If you are not participating in the conversation, then you are missing the opportunity of social media for a two-way conversation.
Repeat: Just keep doing it! Once you get started it’s easy!
Social media is a new, exciting form of online communication. For more information on social media, or if you have questions, contact IlluminAge.