Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Learn the Basics of Social Media

Reach out to a whole new customer base by knowing the ins and outs of online communities.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're ready to take that step you've been avoiding. Today is the day you join the social revolution. You can't avoid it anymore. You know it's time to get involved. It's for the health of your business. Time to answer the big question that has been putting you off: Where do you start?

is not Advertising
Getting involved in social media means understanding a few key factors:

  • Be yourself. No matter what social tool you get involved with, you need to be yourself. Recognizing this fact will help you build better relationships and see greater results.
  • It's a marathon, not a . Getting involved with the social media world is like going to your weekly networking meeting. have to get to know you before they start sending you business.
  • Share and be honest. People get involved with social media for support; they bond with people who are like-minded and whom they respect. Be open about giving advice, and be honest about your point of view. You don't have to agree with everyone to connect. People want to be influenced; that's why they're out there seeking advice.

Choose One Social Tool to Begin
Blogging, , podcasting or video: What tools do you use? Your head is spinning already--and rightfully so. You can't do it all. Look at the different tools that are available and see what fits your personality.

Blogs, Blogging and the Blogosphere
You don't have to launch a blog to be involved in the blogging community. Find a few blogs that reach your customer and start commenting on them. Give your advice and possibly become a guest contributor. Remember, don't sell; just be a communicator. Getting actively involved in two or three blogs that relate with your customer and your industry will build relationships. Being involved will also help you decide if launching your own blog is the right strategy for you.

Social Networking
, , BoomJ, or Ning. There is a social network for every audience. Where is your customer? Take time to do some research and find the right community for you. Choose a social network that will give you a way to virtually meet--and even possibly physically meet--potential clients. Using a social network isn't all that different from going to a networking event. Be a giver, and people will respond. Listen to people, and you may find the social world to be one of your best market research arenas.

Social marketing is one of the best tools for because our competitive advantage is personal service. Being small is about competing on quality and commitment, and social media is a tool that is all about being personal. Yes, when you comment on a blog, lots of people can see it, but it should be personal. Yes, on my Facebook page you can see everything I do and say, but it is personal. Don't pitch, don't pretend. Be yourself and the social community will do the rest.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks