If you’ve been following this series of articles on social media, then hopefully you have had some time to get started and listen in on conversations in your social media environment.

Now let’s talk about the important next step – joining the conversation. Successful social media marketing programs involve listening AND participation.

That participation centers around giving value without expecting anything in return. You may be thinking “What? I’m in business to get results!” We’ve talked about setting quantifiable Social Media goals. But, participation should be focused on providing value as a means to achieve these goals. Remember that Social Media is unlike traditional marketing methods, where you typically push your ideas and product information out to people. Social Media is used to entice and pull people into learning more about you, your company or your products. You want to encourage people to enter into a conversation and dialogue with you.

 Assuming that you have spent some time listening in on social media conversations, you now “know” your audience. You know and understand what keeps them up at night. Now you are ready to share information, articles and tips, and talk about those things that center around their issues.

 Here are some pointers for joining and remaining in the conversation:

  • Target a few key people initially. Start conversations with them. Be yourself! Creating dialogue is the key. Don’t talk or share information like you would in salesware or press releases. Talk and write like you would in a normal conversation.
  • Make your conversations about them. Use the same rules you would in a normal social situation. Don’t assume people care about you; they probably care more about themselves. Get to know them, ask them open-ended questions.
  • Comment about the articles and information they post and share. Listen and learn as much as you can. That puts you in a better position to offer them insight and advice. Ultimately you’ll be better equipped to provide solutions to their problems.
  • When you can show them that you know them, understand them, and more importantly can help them and help solve their problems, you’ve established trust and built a strong bond.
  • Be transparent with your intent and your identity. This involves remaining open and accountable in your online relationships. Never communicate anything that would be viewed as alienating someone in your target audience.
  • Each community has its own unwritten guidelines that can only be understood by listening and participating. Take the time to learn about how others interact and stay within their boundaries.
  • As your level of participation in Social Media increases, you will begin to see opportunities to achieve the goals you have set. Talk to your audience, let them talk to you, and more importantly, promote an environment of collaboration, feedback and co-creation. Listen to feedback and make changes to your products, services, and goals accordingly.
  • Make quality a top priority for your online relationships. Provide quality content. Provide quality, timely feedback and responses. Put quality time into your efforts.
  • Be realistic in your expectations. If you make a concerted effort, you will get results. But, building relationships and establishing trust through Social Media takes time. Don’t expect quick results, but do expect to commit a certain amount of time to these communications channels.
  • And finally, have fun! Look at Social Media as a new way to communicate with your current friends and a way meet new people. That is, after all, what networking is all about!