By Rob Coneybeer
If you’re ambitious and want to rapidly build a successful business as an entrepreneur, you have no choice you must wholeheartedly embrace social media. Contribute as well as consume. If you don’t use social media on a daily basis, you won’t come to understand the subtleties of which messages work, which don’t, and how the networks interact with each other.
Diving in means that you need to engage in social media every single day. Not just consuming, but contributing. It takes a lot of work up front and can feel unnatural, but it’s critical for understanding the fundamentals of social media. If you want to learn how to acquire customers and build a brand at low cost (what entrepreneur doesn’t?), you must learn the subtleties of social media in detail. And it simply can’t be accomplished with a casual, laid-back approach.
One word of warning up front remember that you’re playing with live ammunition. Assume that anything you share on social networks is likely to last forever. I typically advise people to avoid two topics: politics and religion. Strong views on either subject rarely build relationships, but they can easily throw up polarizing roadblocks to relationships with people who might not share your views.
In the current world of social media, there are three critical networks for every entrepreneur: LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. You need to embrace all of them. LinkedIn = your public foundational identity. Facebook = training wheels. Twitter = a public syndication platform.
LinkedIn is an important foundation for your social media presence. Think of it as your living resume one that needs to be perfect, complete and on message. Although it’s increasingly used as prime hunting grounds for recruiters to source and share information about candidates, it’s also the one thing that people who are considering working with you or joining your company are going to research. It’s also how you’re going to find and recruit employees and business partners – so of course you want to put your best foot forward. Don’t skimp on getting this profile right.
Jump into Facebook if you haven’t already. This is a safe (and relatively private) way to quickly learn which messages generate interest, and which don’t. Regularly follow the Facebook news feed and you’ll see for yourself what works great posts get lots of likes and comments; boring posts don’t get much feedback. For better or worse, your messages need to be creative and engaging. Your posts are competing with thousands and thousands of others for attention you need to differentiate in order to rise above the noise, even to get the attention of your Facebook friends.
Finally, if you’re starting a business, you MUST learn how to post effectively on Twitter. Yes, it’s important for personal thought leadership. But more importantly, you need to understand how consumers think when they’re sharing information about products and services with their friends and with the world. People love to share great product experiences with the world just search “@nest” on Twitter for great examples of how consumers share their thoughts on the Nest Thermostat. And take a look at http://twitter.com/nest to see how Nest communicates with their customers using @replies.
Using @replies on Twitter, Nest can reach individual consumers while also sharing that feedback and engagement with their entire fan base. Without engaging in this community directly, it’s impossible to truly understand what works and what doesn’t. As an entrepreneur, you can’t outsource this understanding to “some social media guy” – you need to understand it yourself, on an intuitive and fundamental basis.
Great social media messages get amplified on Twitter via “retweets”. Crafting messages that have a high likelihood of retweeting are extremely important. How do you create a message in less than 140 characters that readers feel compelled to pass on, in turn, to their followers? It’s hard to describe, but depending on the brand (either company or personal) you are building it needs to be clever, differentiated, funny and worthy of retweeting. And when you post a message that gets lots of retweets, you get instant feedback on what works.
Think about how the networks interact with each other. Twitter is an excellent promotional tool for your blog. Facebook provides a safe place for others to respond privately. For my personal Twitter account (@robconeybeer), I syndicate every post into my Facebook account. I’ve found that some of the time, people prefer to give me comments on my Twitter posts within Facebook rather than via public @replies on Twitter, because it allows them to keep their thoughts inside a more private community.
I think that every entrepreneur should have the following objectives if they’re new to Twitter:
- Learn how to build a large group of followers
- Learn how to get your media amplified (RT’s, @mentions, etc.)
- Learn how to use short links to promote and share other media (such as your blog)
- Learn how to use @replies
As far as techniques to reach these objectives, there are plenty of resources on the web to learn how to use Twitter. But remember, above all else, that to achieve these objectives:
WRITE GREAT CONTENT – CREATE POSTS THAT PEOPLE WANT TO READ.
Do that, in an authentic, original voice, and others will amplify your content and your following and influence in social media will grow. And you will learn how to effectively use social media to promote your products and services.
There are several ways to measure your success with Twitter – followers, retweets, @mentions, @replies, and Klout.com. Klout.com may be controversial with some journalists, but in my experience, it’s a reliable indicator of someone’s success with social media.
In today’s world, great products can defeat good products from major incumbents – IF – those great products uniquely serve an important end-user need. Unlike any other time in history, consumers can instantly share their feedback with other consumers, directly and for free – thanks to social media. This means that a clever entrepreneur can leverage social media to rapidly scale demand for new products and services as long as the product they promote is genuinely great. It’s harder to fool customers than ever before.
Rob is a co-founder of Shasta Ventures, a Wharton MBA (Class of 1996) and a member of the Wharton Entrepreneurial Board. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/robconeybeer and on his blog at http://280.vc. You can also find a summary of his social media links at http://about.me/coneybeer.