COMtalk

Diving into Social Media

By Ginny Soskey

Beyond the Facebook Status Update—4 Tips

Whether you’re a seasoned expert or an inexperienced student, understanding the strategy behind social media is essential to staying relevant in the fast-paced communication industry. Most people are familiar with updating a Facebook status or sending out a rogue tweet, but not all feel comfortable interacting strategically as an individual or brand. If you’re looking to beef up your social media skills, I recommend these four steps:

1. KNOW THE UNSPOKEN RULES.

Each social network has its own personality and community rules. This is not something unique to social media—groups of people in real life have their own rituals that they perform together to show their unity. For example, in my days as a Girl Scout, each meeting began with the Girl Scout Promise and ended with our troop in a circle singing “Day is Done” to help establish a sense of Girl Scout unity.

Online communities operate similarly. Each network has its own rituals and etiquette that distinguish it from other networks. As a communication professional, you should not only be aware of these unique traits, but also be able to follow suit.

The best way to find out these unspoken rules is to spend some time on the platform listening to others. Take a few weeks to find out what others say and how they say it. Are posts more personal or professional? Do others frequently self-promote, or is that frowned upon? Finding out how the community works will help you better engage with its members.

2. FIND YOUR VOICE.

After you learn the rules of the community, you should know how to fit in, while at the same time maintaining your personality. Even though the community’s manners should shape your activity within it, you should develop your own style of sharing content.

Your personal or professional goals will dictate how to interact with others. If you would like to be considered a thought-leader in your industry, you should share links from top publications and your commentary on current trends. On the other hand, if you plan to use social media to network, try sharing others’ content and participating in group discussions. The content you share should reflect your goals.

In discovering your voice, don’t be afraid to show your personality. Posting personal and entertaining content makes you seem real rather than a robot. In general, 80 percent of the content you share should be professional and 20 percent should be personal. This rule also applies to brands—users like to know that there are people behind computers.

3. USE EACH PLATFORM STRATEGICALLY.

After you understand how you fit into the community, you should know the features on the platform to better engage with users. Each platform has a different purpose, so learning to capitalize on the best features will help ensure you succeed in reaching your goals. Here are some of the top social media outlets and their advantages:

Blogs. The most important benefit of blogs is their likelihood of being discovered via search engines. To make sure that your blog is found, you should use search engine optimization, a strategy to include the top search terms in your posts. For example, if you had a blog about fashionable shoes, you would want to include highly searched terms such as “UGG boots” and “high heels” in your posts, two of the top search terms in that category. The more times you use these terms in relevant ways on your blog, the more often it will crop up on search engines.

Facebook. Though this is the top social network, it can also be one of the hardest on which to engage followers. Recently, Facebook changed the way posts are displayed: now, images are much more prominent on Wall posts and on the Timeline. As photos have been found to have a higher engagement rate, try posting photos to better interact with followers.

Twitter. To better engage with users on this platform, use a “hashtag” in your post. This is the # sign followed by a word or phrase—for example, #PRSSA, referencing the Public Relations Student Society of America. The hashtag helps group conversations around a topic. In the previous example, all users with #PRSSA in their tweets would be talking about the organization. This is a great way to connect with others of similar interests or promote an event.

LinkedIn. As the top network for professionals, this is a great tool for B2B communication or networking with other communication professionals. Connect with others through groups and begin discussing relevant articles and industry tips for best results.

Google+. Though a recent addition to the list of usual social networks, Google+ has one capability that sets it apart from the other top platforms: group video chatting. Called Google+ Hangouts, this feature allows you to chat with up to 10 people at one time. Recently, the Muppets used Google+ Hangouts to promote their upcoming movie by making Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog available to chat with other users. Like the Muppets, you can use this feature to make a much more personal connection in a group setting.

4. TAKE THE PLUNGE.

Though there are some very successful social networks, the digital landscape is constantly changing. After you master the previous three steps, try looking to new technology to help you stay ahead of the digital curve. The key to this step is to simply immerse yourself in the platform and fool around on it for a bit. Not every shiny new social media tool will be useful, but by trying out new ones, you may find an opportunity to strategically expand your or your clients’ social presence.

Ultimately, becoming more fluent in social media is about understanding how the platforms work and how people use them to communicate. Knowing how to use these technologies strategically is important, no matter your age or experience. Whether you’re at your first internship or the owner of your own agency, appropriately and effectively using social media is essential to your future. ■

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