Q: As the head of my company, what's the best way for me to get involved in social media?
The short answer comes courtesy of Virginia Miracle, executive vice president of professional services at Spredfast, a social media management firm based in Austin, Texas: Play to your strengths.
In other words, if you're the CEO of a small company with a modest budget for social media, choose the platform on which you're most likely to succeed. If you're pithy, you might do best with Twitter. If you're more comfortable in front of a camera, get yourself on YouTube. As Miracle notes: "You have to bloom where you're planted."
Just as companies do not need to engage in every conceivable social network, not every CEO should feel obligated to write a blog. "If you're not very good at writing and you're more compelling being interviewed, get someone to interview you so you can tell your story on video," she says.
Before you go anywhere with your social strategy, be sure to cover the basics. Every CEO should maintain an up-to-date profile on LinkedIn. "You should regularly be sharing valuable content relative to what your company is doing," Miracle says.
In recent months, she adds, the service has added "a ton of new functionality." LinkedIn users can join industry groups, share and comment on activities, "endorse" one another's skills, receive updates from thought leaders and read news about select companies. They can connect their LinkedIn accounts to their Twitter accounts or to company or personal websites. They can even plan in advance what and when they want to post. "The network has transformed itself from a static résumé-holder to a place where people are constantly going to share information," she says.
Whatever platforms you focus on as CEO, there are fundamental rules. First, remember that your title puts you under a spotlight, so make sure you use social media to communicate pertinent information in a compelling fashion. "Anything relevant to your audience is what you should be sharing with your audience," Miracle points out. "If you're just talking about yourself, who wants to listen to that?"
Second, entrepreneurs should make their customers feel invested in their business. Miracle cites the case of Austin's Kendra Scott, who owns seven namesake boutiques and whose jewelry sells worldwide. Her blog contains the requisite celebrity chatter, as well as photographs of regular folks wearing Scott's jewelry. "It's not quite as glossy," Miracle says, "but it turns the people who are really using her product into heroes."
Of course, not all social interaction is friendly. CEOs of small and midsize companies can use social media to respond directly to customer complaints or to quell a potential PR crisis. "It's sharing correct information straight from the horse's mouth," Miracle says. "You can't wait for the next news cycle. It's a wonderful opportunity if you embrace it in the right way."
Christopher Hann is a freelance writer in Lebanon Township, N.J., and an adjunct professor of journalism at Rutgers University.