If there’s one word I hear more than anything else when talking with people about social media, it’s “overwhelmed”. Too many different tools, too little time to learn everything. Where do I focus? Start a blog? Engage on Twitter? Set up a Facebook page? Make a video?

And while you’re busy setting up your Facebook page, building an editorial calendar for your blog, and scouring Twitter for interesting

people to follow, the gurus are now telling you that Google + is the next big thing for businesses, so if you’re not there, you’re missing out on more huge opportunities. Then shiny new sites like Pinterest come along to distract us even further. Eventually it all turns into a giant lumpy mess, and we long for it to be 1994 again, when things were so much simpler.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s not about the tools.
As much as people would like you to believe it’s about the tools, it’s not. The most kick-ass Facebook page in the world will not do you any good if your audience isn’t on Facebook. If you’re not a strong writer, then writing 500 words a day is not only going to be a struggle, it’s probably going to end up sucking and you’ll be disappointed with the results (as will your prospects and customers).

Social media is not about spreading yourself around to as many tools as possible. Spray and pray marketing doesn’t work out here. Why? Because social media about talking to actual people. And smart business owners who figure out where to find the people they want to talk to, and then go there and talk to them, are the ones that are going to kick butt in this brave new world.

Back up the speeding locomotive.
Seriously, slow down. Take a breath. Turn off your Twitter notifications (go on, it won’t kill you). Close all the windows on your desktop except one blank document. Now write down what you really want for your business. Don’t say “500 fans on Facebook” either. What do you want…for your BUSINESS?

Now, chances are, whatever you want for your business is going to mean you’ll have to, at some point, connect with some other people. Who are those people? Write them all down. Come up with names and characteristics if you have to. Draw a cartoon of them if you want. Make a stick figure – it doesn’t matter. Just figure out who they are.

Now you know who you want to talk to. Open a web browser, and type www.google.com/alerts. Start doing some searches on the characteristics you just wrote down for your target people. Follow the steps to create alerts for those search terms.

Go and look at the results of your alerts every day for one week. Do not judge what you see. Just be curious. Click links, read, explore, bookmark things, and make notes. By the end of the week, something magical will happen. You’ll have found the people you’re looking for.

Social media and “real life” are more similar than you think.
You see, finding and getting involved with your audience online is like joining any kind of group. Let’s say you decide to join a hobby group for model train enthusiasts. The first time you show up at a meeting, you walk in and you don’t know anyone. You feel like a bit of an outsider, and everyone, though friendly, are all carrying on in a very familiar way. You don’t always understand every nuance of what’s going on, but you slowly get adjusted to your new surroundings. You spend a lot of time just listening at first, getting to know the personalities of the various players in the room. Eventually, you understand the context and dynamic of the group, so you are able to share things that are relevant. People start to respond to that, and finally, you’re in. A few months go by and you can’t imagine your life without these people.

Think of your foray into the online world in similar terms. At first, you are an outsider, but that’s okay. We were all outsiders once. But as you listen, you become more and more familiar with the dynamic of the conversations you’re interested in. Eventually, you are able to join in, because all your listening has given you something relevant to contribute. You are able to add value, and others will welcome that with open arms. Finally, you’re in.

Do it your way.
Your experience with social media is going to be different from mine. That’s okay, and that’s the beauty of it. We are talking to different people, for different reasons. What matters, what will make you successful in this world, is finding your place, fitting in, and learning, and being helpful, and making a valuable contribution. Do it your way, on your terms, and don’t listen to those who try to tell you that you have to be on any given tool on any given day.

Social media is a choose your own adventure journey. What path will you choose?

[photo by nickwheeleroz]

5 Responses

  1. Social media can be a wonderful resource … or torture, depending. I think it all comes down to finding a social media hub–if you love to blog, then by all means put your efforts into that. In addition, I think it’s important to dabble in other social media beyond your ‘hub.’ Maybe you don’t love Twitter, but can devote some time a week to tweet relevant content for your business.

    I’m currently promoting my mom’s upcoming debut novel. She has really spent a lot of time networking and branding her blog. But her Twitter, Youtube channel, Goodreads, etc are secondary. I think it’s important for a person or business to have one recognizable social media outlet. “Social media on your terms–” I really enjoyed this post!

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