Social networking software

Social Media: Top Tips

Useful takeaways from today's Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council session on social media in the enterprise:

Web tools to aid your social networking research, from Alan Belniak, director of social media at engineering software firm PTC (Twitter: @abelniak):

  • Social Mention - offers "social media search and analysis," sort of a Google of the social media world.
  • Omgili -- Stands for OMG I Love It. Helps "find communities, message boards, discussion threads about any topic," the site says. It's especially useful for market segments where a lot of would-be customers are more likely to engage on a discussion forum like Slashdot than a social media platform like Twitter.
  • Tweeetreach - Tries to measure how many people a "tweet" potentially reached, based on the number of followers of the originator and any re-tweeters. Can't say I'm sold on this one, given how likely it is that vast numbers of followers are not monitoring Twitter at the moment of tweet, but a potentially interesting exercise.
  • RSS. While some have claimed RSS in on the way out, replaced by newer options like Twitter, Belniak urged attendees to continue (or start) using RSS, which he said is useful when feeds are aggregated with a tool like Google Reader.

Tools to help tame Twitter: It may be old news, but both panelists at the "Advanced Listening - Deciphering the Noise" session recommended TweetDeck, as did several audience members. And I agree that this long-time client remains a useful addition to keeping track of a stream of tweets, plus entries from other services like Google Buzz.

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Some in the audience touted Seesmic -- especially the new version with an API, although I've found it a full-featured tool that I never seem to actually use.

In an enterprise environment where multiple people are tweeting from a single corporate account, several suggested CoTweet, a site that allows you to invite colleagues to join your account, monitor keywords and trends, assign updates and receive on-duty notices. I haven't tried this one yet, but it looks quite useful. The company claims users include Twitter itself, as well as Bing, Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Other advice:

Don't just "do social networking" for the sake of social networking. It helps to have some idea of initial goals before jumping in. Are you trying to find potential customers or build loyalty among the ones you already have? Or both? Do you want to encourage purchases? Improve your brand image? Provide actual customer service/support? All of the above?

There's no harm in having people experiment a bit without concrete aims; but figuring out what you'd like to achieve is helpful when it comes to deciding how -- and where -- to deploy a more serious amount of resources.

Listen before wading in. Too many companies head to Twitter, Facebook et. all before understanding who they want to target and where those people are -- a "classic ready, fire, aim approach," Belniak said. Spend a little time listening first so you know "where -- and where not -- to spend your time."

Don't simply post and expect results; you need to engage. One audience member talked about a company that was posting great blog content expecting people to flock to it; but they weren't doing enough to promote it or become involved with existing popular blogs and Web communities in their market space. Others nodded in understanding.

What you're after, argued Mike Troiano, president, Holland-Mark Digital (Twitter: @miketrap), is "scalable intimacy" -- and there's no intimacy without dialog and there's no dialog without listening. (Scalable Intimacy is a concept so important to his view of social media that it's the title of his blog.)

Don't just monitor social media conversations about your brand. If you want to widen your reach, try finding five words your customers would use to describe your product or service -- without including the product or company name, Belniak advised. Think what people doing product research might type into a search engine.

Attendee advice: Participate in other blogs. Engage in existing communities.

Don't get too hung up on ROI. "You're investing to build social equity," Troiano said; and while there are some tools out there to help measure results, it's also important to understand the long-range intangibles of burnishing your brand. Asked Belniak: What's the ROI of taking a prospect out for a round of golf?

Praise employees for engaging with customers and potential customers in social media space. It helps boost worker participation in social media if such actions have "internal currency."

Create useful content that people can access wherever and however they like, Troiano advises in a blog post called Ten Steps To Build A Basic Content Hub. What's a content hub? "Both the heart of a distributed network of information and a destination for those that share the interest it supports," he explains. Using tools such as GMail, Gravatar.com and Posterous, you can start posting, share content, build relations and get to know people, he says. Adds Belniak: "Offer a constant drip of value through Twitter."

I'm trying....

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter @sharon000 or subscribe to her RSS feeds:articles, blogs.

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