How do you develop a deft touch with social media? It comes with practice and sometimes intuition, but here are some ways to hasten the process:
- Stop, read and listen...first: Easily the best way to avoid overstepping and stumbling in social media is to read and listen widely. Find tweets, Facebook status updates or messages you find ineffective or off-putting, and think about why that is. Find those that aren't compelling, and figure out what you'd have to do to make them work. Watch popular users and think about why they're popular.
- Strike a work/life balance: Yes, you're using social media as a strategic work tool, but you can be a person, too. In fact, it's best to have a personality (or get one, if need be). If you find yourself doing as one friend of mine does, posting Facebook updates that say things like "Writing memos at midnight and loving it!" please rethink your approach. (No, she's not being ironic.)
- Ask, don't assume: Before you push your information out there, ask what your followers, friends and fans want to see or hear from you. Keep asking. The New York Times's new social media editor, Jen Preston, made her first task asking Twitter users what the Times should be doing on Twitter. As you can see in the photo, above right, a week later she's working on replies to the 1,000 responses she got--you might get a similar avalanche.
- Don't force interactions: You can't push people to re-tweet (forward) your Twitter posts, favorite your Facebook page, become fans, or hit the "I like" button. You can ask, but you shouldn't be doing that all day, either. Stand on the quality of your content, wait for the viral passalongs to come about, and you'll gain in reputation as a result.
- Do what your mother taught you: Thank people. Share their information instead of only your own. Recommend others. Don't run with scissors. Don't use your precious posts to make fun of others--it'll discourage followers and friends. Become a fan in public of those you admire, and share why. Be generous in answering questions and helping others solve problems. All those tactics can leaven a business approach to social media in ways that pay major dividends.