10 keys for making social networking work

* 10 keys for getting social networking to work for you

One of the big challenges when you put any kind of content or service online is getting people to actually take a look - 'page views' are the 'eyeballs' of Web 2.0.

Slideshow: Where IT pros do their social networking

Online advertising is, of course, one way to generate traffic but there’s a hefty price tag to get a big impact and initially you’re going to be rolling the dice with exactly which channels to use, what kind of ads to deploy, and how much to spend.

But while you’re burning cash on conventional Internet advertising you should also be using social networking to spread the word. Now I know what you’re going to say – “Isn’t social networking just the new black?” The answer my friend is yes, but it’s a new black that is going to be around for a long time, so capitalize upon the new channel while its fresh and relatively accessible.

Here are 10 keys for getting social networking to work for you:

1. Get on Twitter. No, it’s not just a way for people to tell you what they had for lunch, it is a true phenomena and an incredibly powerful way of getting exposure. That said, you gotta work it baby. You’ve got to study and understand the service, develop a “tweeting style”, become engaged with your followers, add value to the exchanges, and stick with it. No starting and then giving up because Ashton Kutcher has more followers than you (he’s always going to have more followers than you and you’re never going to date Demi Moore – get used to it). (Follow Network World on Twitter)

2. Spread the love. Get accounts on Plurk, Identi.ca, and all the other microblogging and Tumble-logging services supported by Ping.fm, and get a Ping.fm account because Ping allows you to post messages to all of those service as well as Twitter and do so in one go. Think of it as a social networking shotgun as opposed to a rifle – you get a lot of coverage for each shot.

3. Get on Facebook and MySpace. I combine these two services as they have great similarities while the differences, though important, don’t stop you from mentally packaging your approach to how you use both of them in one tidy strategy. And you can post to both via Ping.fm anyway.

4. Don’t worry about traditional (if something that’s been around for just a few years can be called “traditional”) blogging. While blogging is very useful it is arguably less important as a way of getting exposure. Blogging is a great education mechanism and there’s no doubt that it can, if used correctly (note the “if”), be a great brand support but if you’re just starting out on the road to social networking then you’ll only have so much time and energy available. If you insist on blogging then make sure that you do so regularly.

5. Instrument everything and anything. If you’re putting all this effort into connecting with your constituency then you need to know what kind of reach you are developing. For example, when you post a link in a tweet, shorten it with a service like bit.ly or cli.gs. These shorteners will track the click stream of each link giving you a near real-time picture of how your messaging is working.

6. Let people help you. Wherever you deploy your content make sure that you provide links to the various social bookmarking and sharing services as well as encouraging your users to help hype you. Two of the leading services here are addthis.com and sharethis.com which provide simple mechanisms for integration with all of the leading recommendation services.

7. Have a story. Across all of the services you use, make sure that your story is engaging and appropriate for your audience and never respond aggressively when baited – I’ve seen people have exchanges in public over social networking services that make both parties look childish. Just as with e-mail and more or less all electronic communications never forget that everything you publish is likely to be around forever so those little white lies you wrote about your product’s performance or features? They will come back to bite you.

8. Respond. If other people respond to you or initiate contact always engage with them (unless they are obviously hostile or wack jobs … and there are quite a few of those out there). Remember you’re there to be sociable and everyone is watching.

9. Be flexible. Services and their features come and go and the changes in their functionality and policies may demand that you revise your strategy. New services will need to be investigated and evaluated and their opportunities seized where practical(for example, Dell made $1 million extra last Christmas by distributing discount coupons via Twitter and a service called twtQpon).

10. Stick with it. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is an effective social networking presence. It will take time and effort to become effective but keep at it, it will pay off.

So will social networking be cheaper than advertising? If you don’t count your own time then, yes, it probably will appear less expensive than advertising. But the issue isn’t just whether social networking is cheaper, its whether it can be more effective – whether the return on investment makes more sense.

Here’s the thing, social networking isn’t going to go away, its going to evolve and mature and if you try and get in the game later, when everyone and their brother is on board and we’ve all grown whiskers then the entry cost will be much higher and the return on investment much lower.

So, plan the work, work the plan, and stick with it. The new black will look good on you.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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