In Market Like You Mean It, marketing expert Al Lautenslager explains how you can engage your customers, create brand believers and gain fans for everything you sell. In this edited excerpt, the author explains how you can successfully draw in an audience online on social media platforms.

When you last visited the Twittersphere, how many people were talking at the same time as you? You may not have known it, but there were literally millions of screaming "voices," all trying to be heard. How then do you get noticed, followed and heard to make your social media marketing efforts worth your while?

First, ignore the fact that millions are talking when you are. You don't need conversations with all of them because you don't need millions of prospects in order to be successful. You only need a qualified few.

It really doesn't matter how many Facebook friends you have or how many Twitter followers you have, and you don't need your blog viewed daily by thousands of people. All you need is to get in front of those who can and want to buy from you. All you need is to get in front of key influencers in your community or market.

In marketing, there's an age-old, fundamental question: "Does everyone who can buy from you know about you?" This same fundamental question applies to the sea of social media swimmers. You should concentrate on adding real value to the small group that matters most. This gives you time to contribute, collaborate and engage in more meaningful conversations and to start to build essential relationships within your community or market.

Here are some guidelines about how to use social media marketing to your advantage:

Be attractive and welcoming. Imagine your social networks as the living room of your home. You want your followers to be your guests. You want them to feel comfortable with the conversation. You want to be interesting, fresh and relevant to stay engaged with them. Act the same way in the online community environment as you do in real likfe, and your authenticity will shine through and win out.

Be friendly and chatty. You can't bore people into buying or into relationships. Usually the noisy, conversational and opinionated participants in social communities create more followers and more relationships. Quiet is less noticeable; bold and outgoing get attention. So ask questions, conduct polls, inform, entertain and inspire your followers, and talk about trending topics. That's how to stick out in your communities without worrying about the millions outside of your circles.

Be interesting. Being conversational and chatty isn't always enough. Make sure your discussions are interesting, but be true to your mission and brand and stay real in your conversation. Show others you care about them. Be thought-provoking. Create a "wow factor" with fresh and relevant content.

Standing out in social media communities simply boils down to being social. It's not a "build it and they will come" strategy. You can't throw up a Facebook page, open a Twitter account and simply post sales-y content. Social implies two-way conversations, not one-way promotional messages. It's up to you to offer something interesting and relevant that others want to hear. Do that and you will get noticed, remembered, and talked about. Social media is all about the development of relationships; people do business with people they know, like and trust.

People inherently want to share and discuss information about their lives, friends, news, ideas and so on. Doing this with the help of technology and a multimedia mix of words, pictures, video, and audio is what social media marketing is all about. To be successful in any community--whether social media or traditional--you must understand what captures your community members' attention, what keeps them engaged and what makes them want to share. If you want to get noticed, pay attention to what captures the imagination, hearts, souls and minds of your friends, connections, and followers.

Every community is unique, but in general, the things that appeal to community members and help you stand out in the social media tsunami are the same:

  • Shock and awe. Morbid and extreme photos get noticed and are shared quickly.
  • Emotion. Videos that bring a tear to our eye get commented on and shared. Watch any video of a service member's surprise reunion with his or her family, and I guarantee you'll need a tissue.
  • Funny. Random, crazy stunts or events that make us laugh spread like wildfire in social communities.
  • Motivational. Words of encouragement, inspirational quotes, success stories and other upbeat communication get noticed.
  • New and fresh. Whether a new idea, a refinement to something you already know or an experience you wished for that someone else had, we all crave new and fresh information and love to share it.
  • Interesting. People obviously gravitate toward things they're interested in.
  • Targeted messaging. You have to know who you want to talk to and what communities they're involved in. This translates into understanding your audience better.
  • Consistency. Maintain a social presence, and don't get known by your absence. Once you start, keep it up. Engage. Discuss. Ask questions. Challenge viewpoints. Talk with people, not at them. Just be consistent in your approach and the frequency with which you post and engage with your community on social media.
  • Dialog. Always remember that it's a two-way conversation. That means talking and listening. (Most forget about the listening part.) If you don't listen well, you'll get ejected from communities quickly. Find conversations going on about your company, your products or your services, and jump in. Listen first, then converse.

You want to get noticed in online communities using social media marketing? Be fresh, relevant and interesting. Share and engage with fellow community members. Create and facilitate two-way conversations. Respond and converse consistently. Show others that you care about them. Do these things, and you'll bust through the marketing clutter, online and off.