Best use of social media starts with strategy

The likes of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook hold great promise for companies and individuals who want to raise their profile in their industry.

If for any reason you and your company are not using social networks like LinkedIn, GovLoop, or FederalContractor, read on.

After I read the Top 100 Contractors issue, I was curious to see how many of the top 25 were using LinkedIn. I did a LinkedIn company search on each and came up with some interesting results.

Twenty-one of the top 25 showed 500-plus connections in my LinkedIn network. This can be a little misleading, in that the company search function shows any mention of the company being searched — former employee, did business with, etc.

So I picked two companies and did an advanced search, looking only for current employees. With General Dynamics (No. 4 on the Top 100 list), I had 198 direct or second-degree connections as of May 12, and with Accenture (No. 25), I had 221 direct and second-degree connections.

What does this tell me? The obvious answer is that among the many activities these companies are involved in, the major players in the government market are using LinkedIn to a significant degree. It does not tell me if they have a strategy behind the use of the network, but they are there in a significant way.

Social-media tools, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, wikis, etc., are the hottest items in the business press and probably deservedly so. But as a corporate user, unless you have a strategy behind the use of the tools, you could be treading water, or worse, working against the overall marketing strategy of your company.

Before deciding on a direction, host an internal brainstorming session and invite people to attend who actively use social media. These people are everywhere. And make sure the marketing staff is well represented.

At the meeting, set two parameters. The first is to operate on a clean slate — no assumptions. The second is to listen to everyone — a job title is not an indicator of being knowledgeable about social media or the potential uses of various social media.

Start the meeting by asking those who are active in social media why and how they use it, which Web 2.0 tools they use, how they connect, build a following, etc. Look at the way people are using the Web to gather information on all aspects of their lives, and try to put it into a business context.

You should begin with goals in mind. What do you want to accomplish? Are you looking to increase your customer base, generate leads or drive sales, build awareness, establish an area of expertise or thought leadership, educate or otherwise communicate with customers, or improve internal communications? What you wish to accomplish will determine the Web 2.0 tools you use.

For instance, for smaller companies, defining an area of expertise is very important. The best tools for this would be a blog, social networks and Twitter. The blog would be the newsstand, allowing you and your followers to discuss every aspect of your area of expertise. Social networks, such as LinkedIn, are where you would put up the profiles of those who help you own this intellectual real estate. LinkedIn, through groups and tools such as Q&A, would also let you display this knowledge to a broader community, a community that you could then lead to the blog. Twitter allows your bloggers to have personas on yet another Web 2.0 platform that could drive traffic by sharing all kinds of tidbits directly or indirectly related to the niche. You can add webinars into the mix when you start getting traffic.

Content and conversations are happening in the Web 2.0 universe, with or without you.

The first line of my book, "Government Marketing Best Practices," was “This market, any market, is about relationships.” Web 2.0 tools allow you to take relationship building to a whole new level.

Mark Amtower can be reached through his blog, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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