Last month, I came across this SOS on LinkedIn: "Help! What is the recommended amount of time we should be spending per day on social media marketing to help promote our business?" The plea quickly drew nearly 200 responses and absolutely no consensus, with answers ranging from "none" to "all day long."
The common thread, however, which a good many posts made clear, is that whether you're devoting minutes, hours or days, you're wasting time if you're posting endlessly about you, your business or your success. Self-serving, one-sided spiels work no better in social media networks than in personal conversations.
So what does work? Here's a roundup of expert advice.
Create a social media voice people want to hang out with
Viveka von Rosen, one of Forbes' top 50 social media power influencers, says, "I like to see individuals posting for the brand instead of the brand itself posting," both because it seems more authentic and "because you can love a brand that you wouldn't want to hang out with." Her advice resonates with that of other leading social media influencers, whose opinions are included in the 2013 Dell Social Media Predictions eBook and are featured in the following tips and cautions.
Make yourself and your team visible
"I don't know about your company, but I don't have anyone in my company named ‘admin,'" says Anita Campbell, Small Business Trends founder and one of 14 Dell-polled social media thought leaders. She recommends featuring names and photos of the people behind your social media and blog posts. But choose your team carefully, cautions social media strategist Lee Hopkins, because those who run your social media program "are company spokespeople with the power to ruin your hard-won reputation in just one tweet."
Know your customers
"Know what jobs they're trying to do, why they make the choices they make, what role your brand plays in their lives, how they experience your service and products," says Empathy Lab's Valeria Maltoni. Then follow the advice of social innovator Gaurav Mishra and use social media posts to "solve a problem or connect around a shared purpose. Or both."
Be an active listener
"Think about how much time you invest listening and learning at an industry conference, for example, versus talking," says Philip Sheldrake, author of "The Business of Influence." "Now carry that ratio over to social media."
Avoid branded content that looks like a glorified press release
Instead, aim for "creative and real-time content that is relevant, meaningful and tells a story," says social media strategist Michael Brito, adding that all content "must add value to the conversation." Effective use of social media "comes down to being human," says "Likeonomics" author Rohit Bhargava, and gaining a "deeper understanding of customer questions and how you can answer them."
Be more conversational
"Incivility needs to stop," says author and Forbes columnist Shel Israel in a statement that gained widespread agreement among Dell-polled experts, including Ann Handley of MarketingProfs, who also wants to see the end of social spamming, including "friend spamming" and "robo-DMs."
Give credit where credit is due
"One thing I'd like to see more of is organic linking and sourcing of material," says Geoff Livingston, author of "Welcome to the Fifth Estate," who goes on to say that "when something is an opinion, we should state that."
Lay off the hashtag
When asked by Dell what one social media behavior needs to stop, Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, answers, "#just #stop #with #the #hashtagging #of #every #word" and quit using a hashtag "in places it wasn't intended. Like on Facebook. Birthday cards. Or the specials chalkboard."
Realize that fans and followers are overrated metrics
"Count shares, comments, downloads, RTs, subscriptions, lead generation, and anything else that prompts human beings to take action based upon the quality of something they've read or seen," says technology journalist and author Paul Gillin. In other words, measure interactions more carefully than engagement alone. Toby Bloomberg of Cox Media Group goes one step further, urging analysis of fan comments, because "that's where the gold nuggets are found."
The consensus: In whatever amount of time you spend, be human. Be authentic. Be civil. Be relevant. Be useful and interactive. And share, don't sell.
The Dell 2013 Social Media Predictions eBook concludes that the biggest opportunity for businesses using social media is to "be a social business, not a business using social networks." I can think of no better advice.