Social Media: Where to Start?

So you want to start a social media campaign, but you don't know where to start?

In my experience, tweeting alone is not going to work. You might make some friends, but you will find it difficult to really drive any traffic to your website - which is probably what you would ultimately like to achieve.

Instead, focus on creating engaging content - blog posts, opinion pieces, how-to articles and original reports on research and analysis from across your industry.

You don't need to have a blog in order to do this - you could make updates to your brand's Facebook profile if you want to keep things purely social - but a blog, particularly one hosted on your own website, can help to boost your site's search visibility too.

A Toe in the Water

My suggestion to smaller firms with no clear idea of what they want to try is simply this: give it a try on a small scale. I can do you 1,000 words, split however you choose. It's enough for a brief 200-250 word update per week for a month, or for a couple of longer how-to or opinion pieces.

Once you see these in place - and tweet them out to your followers, if you already have a Twitter profile - you should soon recognise that it's not just about engaging with your social media network; it's about building a brand (and a personality for that brand), fleshing out your website, ranking for a broader range of key phrases, driving traffic from Twitter and Facebook to your website, and all sorts of other benefits too.

The Importance of Links

If I sound self-serving, then let's take a look at some independent data. The AOL/Nielsen study Content is the Fuel of the Social Web was published in April 2011 and notes how prevalent links to original content had become on Twitter at that time.

The two firms found that, across social networks, a quarter of all messages link to content. Far from being used in a conversational manner, these people are using social networks to transact - content has become the currency that helps to show others that you have a wider awareness of your industry, and earns you more followers as a result.

Among these, some of the links are simply highlighting content elsewhere on the same social network, but most - 60% of the total - link to other websites, leading readers to external content they might otherwise never see.

This is word of mouth in its purest form - not to mention the truest form of 'going viral'. It's not about using special effects to make a YouTube video that looks like a home movie, but actually cost thousands to produce. That's bordering on exploitation of people's interest.

Instead, create some compelling content and tweet out a link - if you hit on something that sparks debate, you get the benefits of retweets and discussion without going down the faceless, manipulative corporate route.

For my money, it's the truest and fairest way to start a social media presence - and demonstrably more ethical than masquerading your latest ad as a home movie or forcing visitors to your profile to 'like' it in order to get in.