Building a Fruitful Social Media Presence Is Like Growing a Garden

Many people think that when they launch a social media marketing campaign, they will have multitudes of friends and followers, grow their e-mail list by thousands and suddenly earn a six figure income within a very short amount of time. I’ve had many clients and potential clients who believe that within 3 months, they ought … Continue reading “Building a Fruitful Social Media Presence Is Like Growing a Garden”

Many people think that when they launch a social media marketing campaign, they will have multitudes of friends and followers, grow their e-mail list by thousands and suddenly earn a six figure income within a very short amount of time. I’ve had many clients and potential clients who believe that within 3 months, they ought to be in that category and think that if I cannot make that happen for them, I’m not worth my weight in salt.

This type of thinking is the fault of so called on-line gurus who make such ridiculous promises and forget to mention the amounts of money and time they invest in order to come up with these numbers (which may or may not be manufactured).

True, there are some personalities who have grown their followings and lists very quickly but they have worked tirelessly in order to do so. They do not just put out 3 tweets a day, post once on their Facebook page, add something to their LinkedIn stream and rest on their laurels. They do NOT spend 20 minutes a day on social media.

Building a social media presence is like growing a garden. It takes a plan, tools, addition of nutrients, removal of weeds, fertilizer, and dealing with bugs and other garden predators in order to reap a good harvest of fruits, veggies or flowers. I love gardening and I love social media so it just makes sense that they require similar approaches.

1. The Plan

Even now (in the northern hemisphere where it is still winter), gardeners are thumbing through their seed catalogs, determining their needs and ordering their seeds. They may already have harvested, dried and stored seeds from last year’s harvest (think heirloom tomatoes) that will be used in this year’s garden. Those in the southern hemisphere might be ordering tubers, bulbs and trees.

If these folks don’t yet have a garden, they will need to plan where to put it so that it gets the required amount of sun, has good drainage and is convenient. They’ll need to determine which plants, trees or bushes grow well in their climate and what types of foods they like to eat so that their work is not without reward.

The most important thing is not to plan anything more than you can handle.

In social media terms, this means examining each social media platform, its nuances and what type of businesses tend to hang out there. In other words, who is your ideal client and which social media platforms do they utilize the most?

Which social media platforms resonate with you and are more likely to be used? Some folks are confused by Twitter; others are bored by LinkedIn and others are infuriated by Facebook’s many changes. So choose the one(s) that you’ll use.

Again, the most important thing is not to plan anything more than you can handle. Choose 2 at the most and concentrate on learning and growing those social media platforms first. Then you can add another as you see fit.

2. The Tools

As we all know there are many gardening tools out there but there are a few tried and true tools that just work better than other. A pitchfork, a shovel, a rake, a hoe, a post hole digger, etc are all good gardening tools.

There are also tools that can be used in Social Media.

Besides the basic sites and their corresponding smartphone apps there are Hootsuite, Market Me Suite, Tweetdeck, Buffer, Sprout Social, and a myriad of other tools that you can use to leverage your time on social media. Do some research to see which one(s) resonate with you.

3. Addition of Nutrients

Just like most soil needs added nutrients such as peet, sand (if it has a lot of clay) and composted materials in order to produce a great crop, so does your social media.

Setting up your social media profiles correctly utilizing your keywords, your website and other social media links (as space permits), adding your photo and some interesting tidbits about you is a great nutrition for your social media platforms.

Social media nutrients also come in the form of content (both your own and curated content).

Your own content can be tips for success in your particular niche or blog posts that offer valuable information to your readers.

Curated content is content that you find and share from trusted folks in your industry (or who have provided general interest information). It might even be inspiration quotes.

You may have noticed that I did not include sales pitches in the nutrient category BUT if you have cultivated (another gardening word) a great relationship with your followers, your offerings will more than likely be seen as a nutrient.

4. Fertilizer

All plants need fertilizer to help them grow.

Social media needs fertilizer, as well.

I believe that this comes in the form of tribes, twibes, Tweet circles, sharing circles such as Social Buzz Club, Facebook share groups, etc. Also included would be submission of your articles to article sites such as EzineArticles and posting and commenting on other folks’ blog posts.

5. Removal of Weeds

Weeding is something that I do NOT enjoy but it is a necessary evil. It was especially evil when I lived on 10 acres of newly reclaimed land that was absolutely full of napweed. I must have spent 16 hours a week just pulling weeds! Because of that, I came to understand why God created winter – to give weed-pullers a rest!

In social media, removal of weeds is necessary but thankfully much more easily accomplished.

I have seen a lot of my compatriots scaling back on their Facebook friends because they have lost contact with those with whom they want to keep in touch or they have become concerned with who actually sees what they are sharing (you don’t necessarily want strangers looking at photos of your kids or homestead, but yet you want to be real and share a bit of who you are).

Many women have chosen not to be involved with Foursquare due to security concerns – no need to encourage stalkers.

On Twitter, it’s a bit of a different scenario. Twitter only allows you to follow 10% over the amount of people who are following YOU. If you follow someone who does not follow back, and it’s not someone whose content is that important to you, you may want to discontinue that follow.

There are a couple of tools that can be used to find and unfollow Tweeps who are not reciprocating your follow. is one source. and are a couple more.

With LinkedIn, it’s pretty obvious who has not accepted your invitation to connect.

6. Dealing With Bugs and Other Predators

Aside from the bugs, we have a lot of deer, elk and moose in our area. And while they are beautiful to watch, they can devour my entire crop of heirloom tomatoes or bed of tulips (which they aren’t even supposed to like) within 5 minutes. Because of that, we have had to put up fences… TALL fences. The dogs can’t stay outside because of the coyotes and the chicken yard is covered in netting for the same reason. You learn to adapt.

There will always be spammers, scammers, phishing exploitations, viruses and other threats to your social media accounts so you may need to erect some fences of your own.

In the social media world, you can’t even trust your real-life friends or respected advisers because THEIR accounts may have been hacked, as well.

Be extremely careful of the links you choose to click. Sadly, the links that you receive in direct mail on Twitter or private Facebook messages are probably the most dangerous ones of all. I never click on a single link that I receive in a Twitter direct message (which may be something to consider when constructing your own Twitter DMs – don’t add links; no one will click them. In fact, most people don’t like Twitter direct messages at all.)

There are also a lot of fake accounts out there in the social media world so don’t automatically follow everyone back. Be discriminating – it’s not about the numbers; it’s about the quality of your connections. You want friends, fans and followers that contribute to the growth of your business (crop), or that you can serve in some way. (I will say this about fake Twitter followers – they often have great quotes and I have been known to repeat them at times – but not as a retweet.)

7. Harvesting your Crop

Yes, this seems like a lot of work and it can be. But just like a garden, the work is more difficult in the beginning and the reward of fresh flowers, vegetables and the fruits of your labor is worth every bit of it.

The people that you meet, the relationships that you develop, the business coaching that you may find invaluable, the emotions that you share with others along this journey and the lifelong friendships that you may create as a result of cultivating a social media presence are certainly worth more than 3 months and 20 minutes a day.

These moments can be the flowers of your life.

Mainstream Western Media Stages “Blemishing China Marathon”

If you Google “China” or “Olympics” on any given day in recent months, with the exception of the few weeks China was stricken by deadly earthquakes, you will be overwhelmed by the shower of negative coverage from the mainstream Western media against China and its hosting of 2008 Beijing Olympics.

For months leading up to the Beijing Games, China has been put under the Western microscope with accusations and complaints against the country and its government sweeping across all terrains, from big political issues such as Tibet, human rights, protest rights, press and religious freedom; to social problems including air pollution, government relocation of Beijing residents; to conspiracy stories about special visual effects of the opening ceremony and ultra performance of Chinese athletes; and to more trivial displeasures about losing a pair of expensive sunglasses, difficulties to access Olympic Green, English standard of volunteers, and over-eagerness of residents to help the foreigner visitors. The list goes on and on.

As if that is not enough, an NBC correspondent went on a live TV hunt for Chinese foods in Beijing. Let’s take a look at what she found: giant scorpions, lizards, silk worms, seahorses, iguana tails and dung beetles. Other Western reportors also cited rabbit head, pig brain and animal penis. Being a native of Beijing with 20 plus years of living there and a food lover myself, I have little knowledge where to look for these exotic things, not to mention ever eating them. Come on, China has a civilization of 5,000 years – Western reporters can’t be seriously thinking about portraying the Chinese as barbaric aboriginals or man-eating cannibals, right?

In fact, Dave Barry of Miami Herald admitted to a blog “” that “The Chinese people I saw all seemed to be buying things like lamb kebabs and fruit. On the other hand, the people gathered around the centipedes and scorpions on a stick were, in almost every case, tourists or American TV reporters doing fun features on weird Chinese food…. The Chinese don’t eat scorpions. They feed their scorpions to TV reporters. I would not be surprised to learn that the Chinese word for scorpion is “TV reporter food.”

Granted, China is not completely innocent from many of the aforementioned allegations and criticisms, but it is neither an evil host which deserves no credit at all. As the world’s fastest growing economy and one of the world’s most ancient civilizations, there has got to be something positive to report on.

You can be easily frustrated, however, if you are looking to read something more positive or, at the least, constructive about the country and its hospitable people. Sure, there is always the official Xinhua News or China Daily one can read for a change, but any praise from self-proclaimed independent and objective mainstream Western media is surprisingly hard to come by.

Meanwhile, for average Westerners, it is hard not to be misled by the drowning negative coverage on China. A homemaker in the US told reporters that she does not want to “legitimize the Chinese government” by supporting the Beijing Olympics.” Didn’t President Bush just open a bigger US Embassy there? What are we talking about here exactly? I am as puzzled as an Atlanta man who demanded an online answer for not seeing Russian tanks there.

As much as I disagree with President George W. Bush on many things, I have to applaud his recent TV interview in Beijing with NBC in which he stressed that the US and China as two very different countries and cultures are bound to have agreements and disagreements on a range of things, but it is important to have a constructive relationship which will help each other communicate disagreements.

Wow, how I wish that he had possessed this wisdom before starting the Iraq war – lives of estimated 1.2 million Iraqis and 5,000 US soldiers could have been saved.

Should the 2008 Olympics be awarded to Beijing in the first place?

Although the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games is coming up in a matter of few days, the arguments surrounding if IOC had made a mistake in letting China host the 2008 Olympics and if China had fulfilled its relevant promises seem to have just started.

Why pick a heavily-polluted country that is dictated by “free market Stalinists” which suppresses human rights, religion and press? China broke its promises to IOC for all of these areas, charges the mainstream Western media.

However, according to the IOC, its mission is “to build a peaceful and better world in the Olympic Spirit which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play – Olympic Spirit strives to inspire and motivate the youth of the world to be the best they can be through educational and entertaining interactive challenges. Olympic Spirit seeks to instill and develop the values and ideals of Olympism in those who visit and to promote tolerance and understanding in these increasingly troubled time in which we live, to make our world a more peaceful place.”

Does China deserve to be awarded the hosting right of Olympics? Apparently, the Chinese people said a loud “yes”. The whole world witnessed how much grass-root support China got from its people when it applied for and won the hosting right of the event.

As a country with more than one fifth of the world’s population – should it not be given a chance to host one of the many games? With 1.3 billion people not represented, can any Olympic Games truly promote its mission of “building a peaceful and better world with mutual understanding”? That is why the IOC made its decision and it is undoubtedly a correct one.

By comparison, I have serious doubts if the mainstream Western media truly understands and honors the spirit of Olympics – questioning China’s legitimacy to host such an international event only gives away its arrogance, self-righteousness, entitlement and cultural supremacy in international affairs.

If the mainstream Western media is still the true believer of human rights and continues to uphold the universal belief that “all men are created equal”, it should acknowledge the birthright of any country including China, for hosting the Olympic Games.

While China needs improvements in many areas as every other country on this earth does, the changes and progresses made by the country in the past 30 years are unmatched in the its own history, which can not be hidden from view by the mainstream Western media.

China should not be forced to make any concessions or promises to any interest groups in order to be “bestowed” the hosting right of Olympics, thanks to the downfall of colonialism and imperialism! The country’s pursuit of reform in all domestic political and social-economic fronts, including but not limited to human rights and freedoms of its people, can and should only be driven by desires of its own people, rather than being imposed on by external forces.

In addition to disputing China’s hosting rights, the mainstream Western media also has aired many conspiracies about China’s intention for hosting the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Show of power? Self-interiority? Promoting China’s development path to replace the US model? Bla, bla, bla….

We all are humans and predictably we all want similar things in life at the end of the day. Splendid displays, inflated egos or decorated ideologies can not replace people’s basic needs for food, clothing, shelter and healthcare.

For hundreds of years, the Chinese people have craved for a peaceful environment where they can focus on making a better living for themselves rather than laboring for self-serving emperors or greedy foreign opium traders. They have been quite successful in the past three decades and now they simply wanted to party and celebrate with the world through Beijing Olympics. Is that so hard to understand?

Why is the mainstream Western media so angry with China?

In his recent article “Are the Media Being too Mean to China?” published on, Prof. Tim Wu of Columbia University wrote that “China’s idea of what makes for a better Olympics for foreign consumption-tightened security and cleaning up marginal elements-is exactly what makes Western reporters crazy.”

While Prof. Wu’s observation only touched on one of the surface symptoms that irritated the mainstream Western media, it does shed some light on the current tension. What he described is in fact a cultural difference in how the Chinese and the Western people receive and entertain their guests. But the root of problem is the ethnocentric mindset of the Western reporters to the cultural differences and their entitlement that things should only be done in their ways.

Similar examples are abundant, whether it is about different ways under which Chinese and Western athletes are trained or about how they differ in keeping their personal appearance or etiquettes. I am particularly disappointed with Prof. Wu’s comments that “China doesn’t have the manners and grace of the richer countries, even if it has increasing economic and political clout.”

While making noises during eating is a taboo in many Western cultures, being openly confrontational in social interactions is a sin in many Asian cultures. These are simply cultural differences that should not be judged as superior or inferior, or we risk entering the boundaries of cultural supremacy.

Unfortunately, it is this arrogant mindset that has led the mainstream Western media to judge China by its own culturally biased standards and self-centered expectations. It is not a surprise they drew the conclusion that China broke its promises for hosting Olympics, an allegation China has denied.

What followed was an irrational unleash of anger by the mainstream Western media towards China in an attempt to force the country into the direction the Western media desired to see. The collective media assault on China, however, is more based on self-interests and ethnocentrism, rather than fairness, objectivity and independence which the mainstream Western media often preach.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!

A recent issue of Newsweek carried an article, “Rise of the Sea Turtles”, that found “Westernized Chinese people” tend to be more resentful to the West. Although I wasn’t particularly impressed with its analysis of the root causes, the article does provide us with a good pointer to an emerging trend.

I can probably qualify as one of the “Westernized Chinese people” the article was referring to, although I prefer to identify myself as a Chinese American after becoming a naturalized US citizen for many years.

I think it is unfair and simplistic to conclude that the “Westernized Chinese people” are more resentful to the West, because the situation is far more complicated than portrayed. The resentments, in fact, are not the towards the West in its entirety but more targeted at the double standard and intolerant attitudes often adopted by the mainstream Western media and Western governments towards China and other non-Western countries. “Westernized Chinese people” tend to be elites who are educated in the West and their advanced training and intellect make them independent thinkers. They are sensitive towards the hypocrisies of the mainstream Western media which scrutinizes China with one set standards while closing its eyes to the same problems at home.

No one person or one country is perfect and the Bible tells us that everyone is a sinner. If we (Americans) can allow ourselves make mistakes and accept skeletons in our own closets, why should we dissect other countries under our tinted lenses and punish them for not satisfying the standards that even ourselves often can not meet?

We should pursue “constructive dialogues” rather than endless “regime changes” by using force – ironically both strategies were supported by President George W. Bush. I salute his newly-found wisdom which helped him reach a peaceful resolution with the North Koreans and hopefully the same can be done with the Iranians.

If we desire international solidarity against terrorism, why is the mainstream Western media always so reluctant to condemn those who terrorize China? Read its coverage of recent terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and you know what I am talking about.

If the mainstream Western media wants to be the role model for its Chinese peers, why does it conveniently distort facts, use phony pictures and brush away people who have different opinions and deny their right to have their voices heard? A Chinese American confronted a CNN journalist a few months ago in LA when she and many other pro-China protestors were denied chances to be interviewed, the journalist responded harshly – “don’t tell me how to do my business!”

We teach every citizen in the West to respect laws and regulations, yet the mainstream Western media participated in cheering the illegal protests and vandalism in Beijing.

Personally I had a painful experience demonstrating on London streets in 1989. It was cold in that morning and I stepped out of the picketing line for a few minutes to get some desperately-needed sunshine. I was subsequently handcuffed by force and arrested by the London police. When my petite wife disputed their action, she was also handcuffed and arrested. We were locked into separate cells for hours with no food and water, not to mention access to a phone and legal advice. We were only released after the demonstration organizer intervened and after being forced to sign the British equivalent of confession statements.

If being out of the picket line for some sun is a crime that deserves to be handcuffed and thrown into jail in London, why should the Chinese be criticized for expelling illegal protestors in Beijing who purposely climb lamp-posts, buildings and advertising billboards to display unauthorized banners?

Why should an American “pastor”, who proudly vandalized the two Beijing hotel rooms and then cowardly sneaked away, be cheered as a “righteous protestor” by the mainstream Western media?

If a Chinese protestor goes to the 2012 London Olympics to protest against the British suppression of Northern Ireland and hang banners on the Big Ben – can he or she count on the mainstream Western media for for the same “heroic” coverage? Should we also question the right of London for hosting Olympics and its commitment for press freedom if its police arrests the protestor?

Food for thought – “Do unto others what you wish to do unto yourself” (Confucius) and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone!” (Jesus)

Is Western-styled press freedom what China needs?

A highly-respected US scholar once told me that the Western media is founded on the spirit of challenging authorities and it is the media’s job to be cynical, vigilant, critical, defiant and negative.

I am a strong believer of the fundamental principles on which the US political system is founded. Besides many merits of the system, media stands out as an indispensable component designed to supervise, on behalf of the public, the three branches of the federal government. This is almost a perfect setup except three potential flaws – firstly, there is no mechanism in place for the supervision of the media itself; secondly, there are serious conflicts of interests between the two contradictory roles of media both as a representative of public interests and, at the same time, as self-serving profit-making enterprises; and thirdly founding media on the basis of cynicism and negativity has its own social costs.

For media to fulfill its role to supervise the government, it needs to serve public interests, rather than its own interests. It needs to be unbiased, objective and independent.

Nonetheless, it is well-known that the mainstream Western media has long blended its role for public welfare with relentless pursuit of ego, power and profits. As the world enters the information age, the mainstream Western media has become a new rising superpower with ever-increasing influence on domestic and international politics, economy, social structure, value systems and people’s everyday life.

Does Americans really have as much freedom as the mainstream media would like us to believe? As the mainstream Western media pursue freedoms in other countries, Americans are losing so many freedoms that once made them so proud.

In the past few decades, America has experienced a string of serious challenges and setbacks including the breakdown of family/social structure and value systems, falling religious influence and freedom, popular abuse and dependence of narcotics and prescription drugs, rising violence across the country, escalating racial tension and police brutality, widening gap between the rich and the poor, dropping standard of literacy and basic education, failing healthcare system that denies coverage of 23 million Americans, and a tendency of resolving international disputes with “regime change” by military force rather than diplomacy, violations of on constitutional civil and human rights under the cover of anti-terrorism, to name just a few.

Our children can no longer walk to the school bus by themselves for fear of drug pushers and child snatchers on the way. By the time they arrive in their schools, metal detectors await for them in some inner city schools. They have to leave their bags in lockers and no colored drinks are allowed for fear of bombs. Their teachers are not allowed to mention any religion or teach morals in schools. Even “Christmas trees” must not be called “Christmas trees” but “family trees”. They have to go through evacuation drills often to remain vigilant because school shootings are spreading. Now people are even more scared because a school district in Texas took the lead to allow teachers carrying guns to the classroom. But can we trust the teachers? Do we have to outsource our teachers from India or China one day?

As an American citizen, nothing is more valuable than my voting right. But even that has depreciated. Why? Because the mainstream media is not doing its job of dissemination of objective information. Instead it confuses me with a constant stream of selectively edited, distorted and manipulated information in order to advance its own preferences, agendas and commercial interests.

Let’s take a look at the tainted media pictures of presidential candidates. John Edwards is a wife cheater, but that has been kept from the public until now; Hilliary is a liar who believes she is entitled to be the President and her husband Bill is hostile to the mainstream press; John McCain is a patriot but a war monger who knows nothing about economy; and finally Obama, alas, is actually a celebrity, radical of racial politics, Muslim (not that there is anything wrong with it) and “Anti-Christ”! For God’s sake, stop harassing me with all this sensational talk designed to boost ratings and I want to vote for Paris Hilton, but unfortunately she is not on the ballot. So my pathetic one vote looks quite useless, well, at least for now.

Moving back to topic of Beijing Olympics. A Western journalist was quick to point out his disagreement with the slogan, “One World One Dream”, which is meant by the host nation to stress the commonalities all peoples share. Nevertheless, this reporter chose to emphasize the different values he has from the Chinese host.

Fine, let’s talk about the differences. If the mainstream Western media can acknowledge that peoples on this earth are different and that there are vast differences between them in the geographic landscapes, population structures, social-economic hierarchy, cultural values, beliefs, religions and ideologies, it should not be difficult to appreciate that their political, legal and media systems also need to differ from each other to accommodate for the specific needs of each country. It is dangerous to assume the systems of the West are somehow superior which can be transplanted to other countries.

Does China need a Western-style media system? I doubt it. While fundamental Western media principles of cynicism, defiance, negativity and confrontation may or may not work well in the Western cultures, they most-definitely will not be successful in the Chinese cultural environment which values hierarchy, harmony, benevolence and tolerance among people.

However, it is the Chinese people who should decide eventually what political, economic and media systems are the ones they need. I have faith that with five thousand years of civilization, China has the wisdom to draw from the strengths of the West, avoid its fundamental flaws and ultimately develop a positive-spirited media system with Chinese characteristics that is built on the basis of upholding public welfare and interests.

Final conclusion

By blemishing a hospitable nation, which worked hard and sacrificed dearly to be a good host, mainstream Western media only exposed the self-interest and ethnocentric facets of itself to the whole world. Such irrational and frantic behaviors will only serve to bolster more media scrutiny by the Chinese government, further alienate the Chinese people and erase any remaining credibility and relevance of the mainstream Western media in the post-Olympic China.

I love the motto of Beijing Olympics – “One World One Dream” – the dream of the Olympic Spirit under which all peoples of the world will be united with mutual understanding, friendship, solidarity, fair play and tolerance to build a peaceful and better world together.

Five Steps to Evaluate Social Media for Your Business Without the Hype!

The hype is what often kills any effort to incorporate social media into a marketing plan; and the hype has been huge. Expect the initial wave to die down, as serious marketers get serious about social media as a tool to listen to and communicate with the customer.

There are a lot of great articles on the web about social media; how to start it, how to convince the CEO you need it, how it is not a panacea for bad marketing; the list goes on and on. It’s getting a huge amount of attention and many people have developed strong opinions (read love/hate) about social media. Regardless of how you feel about it, it is a tool that needs to be as seriously evaluated as you would any new business initiative.

The best way to evaluate social media is to make a business case for using it. Use your existing business plan as your cornerstone. There are two areas where you will focus your efforts: marketing and customer service. By targeting prospects and customers you will be better able to evaluate its potential for a meaningful impact on the bottom line. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Do your Homework

First get the facts as you would any new initiative. This will form your summary overview to present to others in your organization, if you decide to move forward.

1) Gain a working understanding of the tools: Twitter, LinkedIn, Blog sites, Facebook, YouTube, SlideShare, Foursquare, Tumblr, etc. To monitor activity, popular tools are ViralHeat, Radian6, Spokesignal, etc. Each has its unique niche in the user community. Make sure you know the pros and cons of each. While I don’t normally recommend Wikipedia, it actually has a good section on application examples. Just wiki “Social Media” and you’re there. There are links from each example that provide more detail.

2) Understand the trends as they pertain to your demographic. It’s easy to find. Nielson puts out quarterly reports on social media as do other agencies. Put together a couple paragraphs and a chart or two, just enough to prove to yourself that social media is real and is actually used by your target demographic. The latest Nielson report for Q3 2011 can be found on their website.

3) Query at least 10 customers. This is key. Social media, used properly, is not about broadcasting commercials about your company; it’s about your customers. Talk with them. Where do they get their information? Would they visit a Facebook or LinkedIn group if you provided them with useful information or special coupons? What kind of information would they find useful? Make sure they are willing to join a LinkedIn group. Would they sign up for Twitter? Would they view a demo or training class over YouTube? This is important as you begin to build your communities. Users won’t connect if there is no value. You need to find the best way to encourage involvement.

4) Conduct a quick check on your competitors. What social media are they using?

Step 2: Insert Social Media into your Business Plan

This step is critical to assess the fit of social media within existing initiatives and to put it in its rightful place, alongside traditional tools.

1) Highlight all areas of the plan that touch on communications with prospects and customers. This is where your social media entrance points will be. As an example:

a. Customer communications: surveys, newsletters, focus groups, feed-back

b. Prospect communications: advertising, press releases, trade shows, TV spots, radio spots, e-mail campaigns

c. Although social media is not a replacement for any of these programs, it needs to be present along with these traditional communications tools so that it can be properly implemented and measured.

2) In each of these areas, insert the best social media tool to compliment or extend existing communications tools.

a. Example: As an extension to a newsletter sent to end users once a month, you might recommend a monthly WordPress blog, targeted to users. The blog can be set up to encourage responses and comments. It can be authored by one of your customer service reps or a technical person.

Each new blog can be announced via a LinkedIn group that is set up for end users only. It can also be posted as a link from your website. The value-add is that now you have a “circuit” that encourages discussion and interaction, in place of a single one way newsletter event.

Step 3: Create an Implementation Plan

How will the program be executed? Key is content, consistency and measurement.

1) Decide who will own the social media program. This is not easy in that everyone should own this and there are many good articles that passionately make this point. The truth is that it is very hard to change the mindset of senior executives if they are wary of social media. Please do not assign this job to an intern! It must be connected to at least a mid-level marketing person, with oversight by an executive. This individual will be responsible for the schedule and tapping in-house talent for content.

2) Who will own the monitoring piece? There are plenty of tools available to help companies tune in to what customers are saying about them. Some are free, others have a monthly charge. You need the involvement of a customer service manager to coordinate with marketing in that area. For more reading on the subject you might want to visit this site:

3) How will you build your communities? Include a plan for getting membership for LinkedIn groups, Twitter accounts, Facebook friends, etc. Use the data collected from your customer queries. These customers can become your first community members.

1) Who will provide content? If you do not have buy in from people who can produce quality content, all your efforts may be in vain. Thinly disguised “commercials” in the form of tweets and blogs will quickly be dismissed by your audience. Content should come from marketing, customer service and at least one senior level manager, ideally your president or CEO. If that’s you, great. If not, remember, your CEO does not have to have his/her own WordPress and Twitter accounts, but there has to be a commitment to provide content on a regular basis. Be clear that you are not asking executives to blog or tweet. You are asking them to share their knowledge and expertise at least once a month. This can be achieved via a short interview with a marketing person, over a cup of coffee. It is an excellent opportunity for them to share their thought leadership — something they should be doing anyway!

2) Set a preliminary schedule.

This will depend on the social media tools you use. Twitter generally requires multiple daily posts. Blogs can be written monthly, as long as there is consistency.

3) How will you measure impact?

Take time to understand measurements that make sense for your company. There are a lot of articles about social media metrics. Find one that fits your business model.

Step 4: Make a final assessment

At some point along the line, as you learn more about social media, which customers are using it, what your competitors are doing and what the industry trends are, you will form an educated opinion as to its feasibility within your organization. There are few industries today that cannot benefit from using social media to engage their customers and articulate their unique value to their community. If you are the top executive of your business, your decision will carry the weight to make it happen. If you are at a mid-level spot, you’ll need to put together a report or presentation to properly communicate your findings. Either way, you have the confidence of knowing that you’ve evaluated it seriously and in context of your existing business plan.

Step 5: Present your findings

Regardless of your personal thoughts and opinions, your work should take a format that can be articulated to others in your organization and should contain the following:

1) A short overview containing the statistics, metrics that pertain to your markets, customer input and competitive use of social media that you collected in Step One. It’s important that others understand what social media is — without the hype, of course.

2) Breakout of the pertinent portions of your business plan, indicating where the social media would fit within the goals, objectives and tactics already outlined therein.

3) Implementation section, including who would run the program, how content would be created, schedules and measurement metrics. The way you measure your social media efforts will be key in assessing its value. There are many articles on the subject of measurement. Here is one from TopRank you may find helpful:

4) Closing summary which reviews the main points, articulates the pros and cons; the potential value and the tasks required to implement, manage and measure a social media initiative. If you recommend social media for your company, as stated earlier in this report, it is critical to get commitment from the highest level of the organization and down through everyone who will have involvement. To be effective, the use of social media must be consistent, involve quality content, and encourage two way communications with your customers and prospects.

Wow! Why go through all this work? If and when you get to the point of recommending your program, you will already understand the unique place social media holds within your business. Furthermore, you will have answered many of the key questions and demonstrated the tangible value of integrating social media within your business plan. You will have a sense of how to implement the program, along with who will provide content and a method of measuring its effectiveness downstream. Finally, by placing social media within the business plan, you’ve validated its importance as a critical tool to reach beyond traditional marketing and customer service activities.

Not all marketers would agree with this approach. Some experts argue that social media is a phenomenon that cannot and should not be inserted into business plans. Others would assert that you “just do it!” and not over analyze it. This may be true. But our business plans form the cornerstones of our organizations. Social media, as a unique communications form, is being short-changed if it does not hold a prominent place there. And that’s no hype!

Good luck. Let me know where your evaluation of social media leads you.