So, it’s #BookLoversDay, as if we should restrict this recognition to one day of the year. I love books ALL YEAR.

Is every admirable sentiment going to be turned into a Hallmark Cards moment now, reduced to a single burp of validation each year? First, it was Valentine’s Day, then Secretary’s Day, then Teacher Recognition Day…

We don’t have to wait until Social Media tells us it’s time to recognize the value in something as important as our executive assistant, our children’s teacher, our partner in life, or literature itself, do we?

Here’s an idea: Take 30 seconds at the beginning of your day to recognize and honor one of the above, or any one of sundry other valuable influences in your life. Get on with your day, until you bump into something or someone who merits positive recognition (your newest client, your boss, your bank teller, etc), and take a moment to offer sincere recognition of their value. It doesn’t require a long speech. It could be as simple as looking them in the eye and saying “Thanks”.

Sounds obvious, but we miss the opportunity so often.

With its traditional content limitations being “stretched” several months ago, in order to accommodate “photos, videos, links and up to 140 characters of text”, Twitter has arguably encouraged a more discursive and expressive community. Indeed, there are those who have become particularly enamored of the platform, when they might be better served, and of better service, were they to focus a healthier balance of their energy elsewhere!

However, political observations aside, it’s been interesting to see how the language of Twitter has and has not evolved, in the wake of recent changes. I’ve included below a list of acronyms, abbreviations, and unique terms that were once common parlance on the platform. Today, some #persist, while others have been effectively impeached (the other meaning of the word).

Which terminology do you still include in your tweets, and have you discovered or introduced new terms that are not included below?

BFN.

tweet_edited

Acronyms

  • MT = Modified tweet. This means the tweet you’re looking at is a paraphrase of a tweet originally written by someone else.
  • RT = Retweet. The tweet you’re looking at was forwarded to you by another user.
  • DM = Direct message. A direct-message is a message only you and the person who sent it can read.
  • PRT = Partial retweet. The tweet you’re looking at is the truncated version of someone else’s tweet.
  • HT = Hat tip. This is a way of attributing a link to another Twitter user.
  • CC = Carbon-copy. Works the same way as email.
  • FF = Follow Friday (a convention whereby, every Friday, one publishes one tweet listing newly discovered Twitter users deemed worthy of following)
  • IMHO = In my humble opinion.
  • AYFKMWTS = Are you f—ing kidding me with this s—?
  • GTFOOH = Get the f— out of here
  • OH = Overheard.
  • NFW = No f—ing way
  • IRL = In real life
  • NSFW = Not safe for work.
  • FML = F— my life.
  • FWIW = For what it’s worth.
  • QOTD = quote of the day
  • BTW = By the way
  • BFN = Bye for now
  • AFAIK = As far as I know’
  • TY = Thank you
  • YW = You’re welcome
  • FTW = for the win
  • QOTD = quote of the day
  • BTW = by the way
  • HT = hat tip
  • FIFY = Fixed It For You
  • OMG = Oh My God
  • LOL = Laughing Out Loud
  • TN = Tonight
  • TM= Tomorrow
  • SMH = Shaking My Head
  • IDK = I don’t know
  • AMIIC = Ask Me If I Care
  • FB = Facebook
  • FTF = Face to Face
  • FTL = For the Loss or For the Lose
  • FYI = for your information
  • IC = I see
  • IOW = In Other Words
  • IRL = In Real Life
  • JK; j/k = just kidding
  • JSYK = just so you know
  • JV = Joint Venture
  • ROFL = rolling on the floor laughing
  • TIA = thanks in advance

Abbreviations and other terms

  • GR8 = great
  • 4ward = forward
  • abt = about
  • b/c = because
  • b4 = before
  • bgd = background
  • chk = check
  • cld = could
  • clk = click
  • da = the
  • deets = details
  • Eml = email
  • fab = fabulous
  • fave = favorite
  • fav = favorite
  • fwd = forward
  • itz = it is
  • kewl = cool
  • K = okay
  • L8er = later
  • L8 = late
  • peeps = people
  • plz = please
  • PPL = People
  • props = proper respect
  • PWN = Own
  • R = are
  • shld = should
  • thx; tx = thanks
  • Twouche = Someone acting like a big fat jerk via Twitter.
  • Twurvey = A survey sent out over Twitter.
  • u’ve = you have
  • ur = your
  • U = you.
  • w/ =with
  • wld = would
  • wOOt! = an expression of joy or excitement.

I was recently messaging with a colleague, discussing the finer points of republishing content posted on a Facebook Page, when we got on to the topic of crediting sources. The conversation got me thinking, and following are some of those thoughts, for what they’re worth:

  • Sharing content is cool, giving credit for the source is even cooler.
  • Illegally sharing hundreds of films or music tracks online is not cool, no matter how you cut it. Everyone uploads or downloads a song here or there, or surreptitiously catches an episode they missed of their favorite series, but wholesale mass theft of content is just that – stealing.
  • Trolling is for idiots.
  • Flame wars are for fools.
  • Cat pictures should be limited to Furcadia.
  • If you’re redistributing a Twitter post that someone else made, it’s called a “retweet”, and there’s a button for that. It is not called a “cut and paste and pretend I thought of it”.
  • Don’t tweet, post, or otherwise publish content just to be the first, coolest, or any other attention-grabbing reason. For most of us, High School ended a long time ago. Try limiting yourself to publishing content which you SINCERELY believe will Inspire, Challenge, Educate, or Empower (my version of Tony Hsieh’s very compelling ICEE philosophy for tweeting).
  • Empire Avenue, Klout, and Kred are Casual Games. They have no other functional value (with the exception of advertising). Don’t pretend otherwise. This may change one day, but for now it’s all just about as useful as milking a virtual cow. Enjoy the diversion, but don’t make any more out of it than that.
  • Your follow count – be it on Twitter, Facebook, Quora, or elsewhere – has no metric value other than to tell you how many people clicked “Follow” or “Like”. Relatively few of them actively read your content, so suck it up and get on with your REAL life.
  • Once in a while, something you post will publish at *just* the right moment, and the content will resonate at *just* the right frequency with the community in to which it is launched, sufficient to go viral (for whatever short period and distance it does so). Take a moment to enjoy the moment, and then get on with your REAL life.

Social media is engaging, immersive, sometimes even addictive. However, it is counterproductive when it becomes anything more than a utility. If you manage online communities for a living (or as an important aspect of your identity), then social engagement (a term I coined in 2005) will understandably hold a central place in your daily life. Everyone else, look upon it as you would the telephone or television: a game-changing innovation that serves to bring the world closer together, and facilitate communication, education, information, and commerce. Used in moderation, it represents an extraordinary leap forward in personal expression, global connectivity, and cultural rapprochement. Used to excess, it erodes the intellect, dumbs down the conversation, and reduces us to yabbering consumers of junk, and little more.

Great tools and platforms have been (and continue to be) developed. Let’s use them with a modicum of wisdom and restraint. The promise they hold is immense, but only if we use them responsibly.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Here’s vibrant proof that some folks still don’t understand social engagement: McDonald’s (@McDonalds) mucked up a social conversation on Twitter recently, and then their own social media director, Rick Wion, demonstrated an embarrassing lack of awareness, when he tried to explain the whole thing away. One particularly shocking phrase stood out for me: “…With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned…”.

How many times do I have to say this
?! Social Engagement is NOT a “campaign”, it is a commitment, and sometimes commitments require weathering rough spots in the relationship; forging through together; learning to listen as much as talk; and – should some control be necessary – controlling in an invisible manner that can never be resented. By admitting that (a) McDonalds continues to desire control of the social media landscape within which it operates, and (b) it considers Twitter conversations as nothing more than advertising campaigns, their Social team has exhibited a McRoyal lack of awareness, with cheese. That the brand thinks it can openly control social engagement initiatives, and then impose “contingency plans”, when the outcome doesn’t match their projection, demonstrates not only a lack of experience, but a mentality that will consistently fail to leverage the potential of social engagement, until said mentality changes. A good social strategy is a responsive and flexible one, not a rigid and controlling one.
.
So, let me repeat: As I first said in 2007, and have repeated each and every year since: Social Engagement is a COMMITMENT to connection and bidirectional relations. It will not work to its full potential if it is treated as an advertising or product marketing CAMPAIGN tool. Gone are the days when you could blatantly push or pull the consumer in one direction or another, without any regard for their own instincts. The power of marketing has transformed in to one of influence, rather than impact. That’s not to say you cannot use social tools to support, and even push forward, certain marketing campaigns.  It’s simply that there are too many variables at play within the social ecosystem for a brand to want to control things all the time. How long would you stay married to a spouse who was *always* and obviously controlling? “Leveraged influence” and “moderated transparency” are the buzzwords today.
.
“…All right stop.
Collaborate and Listen.” – Vanilla Ice

Moderated transparency
One must be prepared to let the consumer peek behind the curtain a little more than previously, and even fiddle with some of the levers. A smart brand will create levers with which the social community can interact:
.
Leveraged Influence
A brand should always have a vision and an objective, and all strategies and actions should be manifest and pursued within the context of the brand objectives. Properly managed social engagement can help to strengthen the brand vision and more effcieiently attain the objectives, both internally and externally:
  • Inspire employee and consumer evangelism and sharing
  • Challenge dormant employees, distributors, and consumers to reengage
  • Educate and redirect potentially hostile influencers
  • Instill brand values without imposing them
  • Crowd-source creative opportunities at little to no-cost
  • Empower stakeholders to truly feel a sense of part ownership in the brand’s success
  • Boost ROI
  • Advertise incrementally (no need to invest tens of millions if there’s no pick-up whatsoever)
  • Blend resources (social brand engagement is not just about marketing, it’s about engaging (thus the term!) the whole ecosystem of stakeholders in a manner that brings them closer together, and able to more effectively enhance the brand value. It could be a matter of activating a previously dormant employee population, creating a more tight-knit community out of a global sales force, or bringing end-users closer in to the fold, so that an offering can benefit from their insights, and presell itself in the process.
  • Year-round presence – social engagement is a full-time enterprise, thus the need for commitment. However, while a conventional marketing campaign requires aggressive “full-bore” tactics, a social strategy can be far more leisurely, and thus far more manageable. The community will hold the brand up alongside the social team, so long as everyone is playing well together.

Oh, and one more thing…social engagement brings humanity and humor back in to the mix. That’s never a bad thing.

Enhanced by Zemanta

My friend, Mike Brown recently posted a short piece on his own blog, entitled “Who is creating social media content in your organization?”, exploring where the departmental responsibility for social media (or “social engagement”, as I prefer to call it) lies within an organization. I added a comment to the posting, which drew some very flattering responses via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and email – so I thought I’d post my comments here below (as much to remember what the heck it was I wrote, as to keep the conversation going!):

Perhaps above and beyond the obvious impact Social Media is having, in terms of offering new opportunities for brand evangelists to introduce and moderate their platforms in existing or new constituencies; for product and solution marketing teams to try and launch “campaigns” via new channels; for corporate representatives – be they CRM, legal, or otherwise – to try and cautiously bring their brand and offering connection closer to the end-user, in response to an increasing demand by consumers and clients to participate in the valuation of offerings, further up the value chain….above and beyond these and other immediately evident opportunities, benefits, or enticements (presented across the still primordial social engagement landscape), there is growing one even larger opportunity that has been only tangentially addressed here, and deserves to be directly examined:

Instead of attempting to qualify which existing department should or does own or lead social engagement activities, within traditional corporate infrastructures and silos, the real question of deepest worth may be “has the advent of social engagement, greater organizational transparency, transversal responsibility for failure and success alike, and deeper demands from every part of the process (including consumers) for collaboration in development, innovation, productization, distribution, and iteration (breathe here) created not just an opportunity, but a demand, for organizations to review their org. charts, and functional infrastructures, in order to best respond to and manage new models and ecosystems in customer and client relationships, product sales and management, and other aspects of B2B and B2C business?”.

Perhaps the answer lies not in shoving social media activities into one or the other pre-existing pigeon hole, but instead taking this opportunity to stir the pot more than just a little, and take some time to divest ourselves of 1950’s functional structures..?

This is the moment to loosen our grip on the past and present, and see this undeniably disruptive practice of social engagement as a chance to reinvigorate and possibly reinvent the way we manage innovation, human resources, market penetration, customer service, and so much more. Let’s not get carried away with a presently rather shallow tide, but let’s recognize that the tides have nevertheless shifted, and the currents are moving in compelling new ways which will certainly change the landscape. Where your ship lands depends on how well you learn to navigate these currents and tides, and how efficiently you reassign your crew.

My fundamental suggestion is that corporate and organizational models are ripe for transformation, reflecting massive evolutions in internal and external communications, operations, personnel management and education, marketing, and customer relations – to name but a few areas that are both deeply impacted by and – in turn – heavily influence hierarchies and processes within organizations. The way social engagement permeates an infrastructure could prove invaluable in effecting valuable transformation: watch the practice as it flows through the organization: something akin to a corporate blue dye (BDT) and modified barium swallow (MBS) test! Should Marketing and Communications continue to be lumped together (“MarCom”)? Is the skills set of Marketing best maximized as a Sales support function, or is there a more strategic opportunity therein? Should Communications really be a satellite support function, activated only whenever a Business Unit or other department determines there exists a need to “push” information outward, or is more potential just itching to manifest itself? The communal nature of social engagement gives organizations the priceless opportunity to move beyond legacy charts, developed to manage the 19th Century industrial revolution. Several revolutions have taken place since then, and this latest one – effectively disrupting how we connect, communicate, and transact with one another – presents an opening that should not be overlooked.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The notion (and practice) of community driven consumer activity is, as with so many other things, cyclical.

For years, people lived in small microsocietal enclaves, relying on one another for word-of-mouth news and shopping recommendations, and sharing health and nutrition tips as they were discovered. Local gossip spread locally, and all was well in the Middle Ages.

As the world expanded, so did communities, becoming less microsocial, and more macrosocial. Urbanization supported mass technological, scientific, and industrial evolution, but at the cost – arguably – of social health. Social dynamics experienced a metamorphosis, from one reliant on group dynamics, to more individualized and self-centered ones.

In the latter 20th and very early 21st centuries, this self-centered societal infrastructure reached its zenith and, in keeping with the aforementioned cyclical nature of things, began to reverse its arc, affected by both internal and external influences.

Recently, driven both by personal impulses and available tools, platforms, and supporting business-models, individuals have begun practicing an exponential degree of community-thinking and action. No longer do all people rely so heavily on corporations for their information, news, and activity choices – preferring instead to rely on their peers for suggestions, and themselves for determinations. Admittedly, some corporations and agencies are attempting to co-opt this trend, but the most successful brands are those that have engaged WITH these new paradigms in media engagement, as opposed to those that have attempted to dominate them for their own short-term ends. Good case in point, Ford just posted record profits, and is the automaker with the most successfully manifest social media strategy (kudos to Scott Monty)…

We are cycling back, as a society, to an almost medieval microsocietal infrastructure of consumerism, wherein we form smaller enclaves, or networks, and assign to those networks values, depending on the context thereof. What used to be the medieval “guild” is now our professional network; the erstwhile “pub” or “inn” or street corner now manifest as our social network; and a slew of other networks have risen up to mirror, to one degree or another, the sewing circles/ curanderos/ mother’s groups/ secret societies, et al.

No longer can large corporations confidently “push” their products or services into a population, en masse. The population has become too diversified. While it may not yet be firmly evident, I believe that the world has become less homogeneous, as individuals seek out smaller communities to match their interests and skills, and become empowered to act as participants in the establishment of market trends, rather than followers. It has been a long time since Main Street Michael was invited to share his opinion about a major brand. Average Joe is beginning to get the hang of letting companies know what he thinks via Twitter and other feedback channels, and these companies are responding! Plain Jane loves the idea that she can be discussing her love (or hatred) of a particular product on her blog one day, and have the creators or distributors of that same product invite her to speak to their product development team the next day.

The quality of any particular demographic is now going to be as crucial a measure of its value, as much as (if not more so than) the size. It’s not enough anymore to rely on Nielsen numbers. While a certain audience may be smaller than another, it may practice a more intense form of brand evangelism, creating a wider grassroots adoption than can be tracked through conventional means. We are currently experiencing a “shakeout” period, wherein marketers are evaluating, through experimentation, to what degree it is advisable to bow before the consumer and listen more than talk. It is clear, however, that “brainwash” product marketing can only manifest itself if the target consumer is willing to brainwash him/herself in the face of a supremely well-positioned enticement (see “iPad”). It will be the consumer network that drives adoption, not the seller. The local guild will share their preferred mobile business apps, and your friends on FB will parse the news for you. Expertise will percolate by mass vote on Quora, Founders Space, and elsewhere, and – in the short period we are currently entering, when the advertiser has not yet fully determined how to manipulate the landscape to their advantage – we will enjoy a dynamic and somewhat tumultuous period of social behavior not unlike the marketplaces of hundreds of years ago, when we developed a stronger sense of what we wanted and needed BEFORE we went to the market; and yet relied upon our fellow citizens to recommend the best vendors, and turned to the recognized experts for additional guidance.

Communities are helping to clarify the value of marketing as more than just a product pushing mechanism for increasing sales figures. Marketing should never have been relegated to the status of “sales support”, “collateral creation”, and “Press Release spewing” that it was in so many companies. Identifying the nature and need of the customer, and connecting it with impact to the identity and value of your offering is far more than just sales, advertising, PR, or branding. It is these things and a panoply of intangibles, sprinkled with a big handful of common sense, and served upon a bed of freshly grown business acumen. It’s no longer about making sure that the customer gets it, but rather reaching that moment when the customer understands that YOU get it. Enlightened marketing today must engage and activate specialist communities to become evangelists for your offering. Today’s customer is too busy sharing their views to adopt something about which they have not had the opportunity to establish an opinion. I want to believe that most companies and marketing agencies will embrace the notion of sharing the responsibility of developing awareness with their target customers, but I’m afraid – in time – some agencies will find a way to manipulate customers one again, and where companies used to tell people what to buy, unscrupulous brands will find ways to tell people what to think, and the cycle will continue, moving in and out of moments of rightness, as the poet Wallace Stevens once put it.

For now, we should revel in the short period surrounding us, when marketing is able to exercise its full range of capabilities, respectfully connecting the offering to the market in a manner that reveals a relationship between brand and consumer more fruitful than has been evident for a long time.

Enhanced by Zemanta

I disagree with the contention that social media is “…just a plural term for any online vehicle that allows for, and encourages, interaction” (see one of my previous postings on Social media for details).  Additionally, I predict that business websites will soon be far less crucial to a brand’s marketing strategy and market engagement than one might think (but more on that in a later post).

For the rest, I found Brazilian social media marketing strategist Gina Gotthilf’s recent article very helpful on several points that might prove of particular value to B2C businesses (B2Bers can still glean some useful tidbits, but the article is primarily speaking to e-commerce and e-consumer engagement). Ms. Gotthilf kindly agreed to have what I consider the most salient points excerpted here below, and I believe you’ll find some good tips on improving digital marketing tactics and optimizing your connection to your online audience/prospects:

When incorporating social media into a marketing strategy, most companies focus on Facebook and Twitter. Those who hire social media strategists also venture into niche platforms and new technologies, racing to stay ahead of the competition.

Yet what is often forgotten is that social media does not necessarily entail a dedicated platform – it is just a plural term for any online vehicle that allows for, and encourages, interaction. Hence, one of the most important steps in making your brand social is incorporating social elements into your company website.

Here are the top 6 questions to ask in determining if your website welcomes interaction.

1) Is your content shareable?

This may seem obvious but is more than often overlooked. Sure, readers can always copy a URL they find interesting and manually paste it into an e-mail to share with friends, or into Facebook to share with their network… but they more often than not WON’T. The rule of thumb is, and will always be: your community is lazy, no matter how much they love you. Use ShareThis to facilitate and encourage sharing by making (at least the most basic) buttons available by any post, photo or item on there. But don’t make EVERY button on the face of the internet available – your readers are too lazy to look through them and easily confused. But remember – just because you put a button there doesn’t mean people will click. Shareable content needs to be unusual, interesting, humorous or controversial. Keep this in mind when planning content and layout.

2) Can readers affect the content of your website?

Of course your professional website isn’t a wiki – open for endless edits by well-humored kids located in some non-English speaking country. Yet readers like feeling as though you’re listening enough to incorporate some of their thoughts and opinions. If you publish written content, perhaps offer the possibility of suggesting topics. If you publish visual content, give your readers the ability to submit their own for photos and video for display in a designated UGC (user generated content) area of your site. If you sell products, consider letting users vote on what models and colors they’d like to see made available for purchase or suggest changes to existing items.

3) Can your audience submit public comments or reviews?

Sure, your own description of your product may be accurate and what you sell or write may actually be life-changing. But readers want to hear that from other readers. Comments and reviews make your site look honest, transparent, and not afraid of public opinion. Of course, as with any other social media platform, monitoring is necessary to ensure that comments and reviews are appropriate, non-offensive and properly responded to if necessary.

4) Is your content dynamic?

Static websites are the equivalent of stores that never change their collections (I don’t know of any in real life, other than antique stores). Keeping your content new and fresh will encourage your readers to visit on a regular basis – to read new articles, check out new products or admire new images. Readers will most often share content from websites they are familiar with as a credible source of information – they don’t want to look foolish. Moreover, new content means new things to share… and more visitors entails more members for your new thriving community!

5) Does your homepage offer a relevant social experience?

When a reader is perusing your content… is he/she hanging out alone or with others? In other words, are there indications that other people are there too at that particular time or that their friends have been there before? Facebook Connect offers an easy solution to bringing people’s networks into your site without altering content and letting your readers find out what articles or products their friends have personally endorsed. Making buzz public (such as number of current visitors or total pageviews) and adding chat plug-ins are also easy, effective upgrades.

6) Is your site optimized for mobile platforms?

It’s no news – people are constantly browsing the web and looking for relevant information on -the-go. Browsing the web on your computer is so last year! Whether they own a Blackberry, iPhone or iPad, your audience will want to check up on sales when they’re close to stores, see if you sell something they need, or want to reference your content when it’s most relevant to them geographically. Make sure to create a mobile version of your website or ensure that your existing website functions properly on multiple mobile devices. Additionally, consider creating a relevant branded application and maintaining up-to-date on Facebook’s Open Graph mobile features.

Gina Gotthilf is a Social Media Strategist with several years of experience in developing, managing and analyzing social media marketing campaigns for luxury fashion brands. She loves observing and predicting behavioral and market trends online. 

It’s been quite a while now that “gurus”, “pundits” and “experts” have been bandying about the term “Social Media”, proffering it as the catch-all for market penetration and business success, without honestly having any sort of traditionally measurable proof of merit in hand.

There’s no question that Social Media is an exciting activity sector, promising diverse new and enhanced points of connection with customers and clients. Quite how those connections will translate in to the type of metrics favored by traditionalist CFOs and shareholders is still under debate.

While the aforementioned experts continue to find ways to align this new engagement paradigm with traditional Cost/Benefit analysis modeling, I suggest that such ROI measurement is perhaps something of a fool’s errand, (1) because marketing has never been measurable in the manner that so many companies historically demand, and (2) because the commitment required to successfully maximize the potential of today’s emerging platforms and tools for customer engagement is far less measurable than ad or PR campaigns have been, in the past.

Social Media is more than a marketing campaign ecosystem, wherein one might deploy emerging product offerings or test possible brand evolutions. In fact, I would love to get rid of the term “Social Media” altogether, because it brings with it an unfortunate sense of frivolity that has been compounded by the visible (yet relatively small) part of social media, known as Social Networking (domain of Facebook, MySpace, Youtube, et al).

From a business perspective, the notion of “Social Media” stinks too much of an ongoing teenage chat session, with no goal in site.  Many social media gurus will argue that this is quite so, and crucial to a business’s success in the 21st Century. While I strongly concur that engaging in a more open and collaborative dialog with consumers and users is an imperative in the contemporary marketplace, I also feel strongly that there exist few businesses that can afford to invest time and money in open-ended discussions with their prospects, “just because”. In the end, a business has something to sell, and its activities should be focused on this goal, as well as the post-sales services necessary to ensure the new customer becomes a de facto account executive for the brand. Smart marketing is a strategic endeavor, managed at the C-Suite level, and designed to position a company’s offering(s) as impactfully as possible, with the ambitious objective of turning salespeople into customer relations advocates.

By all means let’s call it “Social Media” when we’re reconnecting with old High School friends and sharing photos with cousins across the world.  With respect to B2B and B2C connections, let’s expand the term, and call it “Social Engagement”. That is, after all what it’s about, isn’t it? The more measurable activity is whether and how we might engage with and activate our end-user community to become partners in the enhancement and advancement of our brand (and its varied offerings).  In some instances this will be sociable (Facebook Pages, Twitter feeds, comments threads, etc), in others more buzz marketing oriented (viral branded content, competitions, internal communications, polls, etc), and in yet others wholly functional and tactical (SEO, brand monitoring, bookmarking, corporate HR, medical resource sharing, media asset management, and so on).

There’s a lot we can do with the tools, platforms, and channels available to our businesses today, but we need to think of our Social Engagement strategy as more than “getting on Facebook” or “starting a blog”. It is a commitment – both online and offline – to connecting with our users, employees, and clients in a more dynamic and potentially rewarding manner than ever before. It is a far more organic and open-ended engagement than we are used to (and perhaps comfortable with). However, it still merits careful strategic forethought and measured management.

To begin, despite that fact that she uses the term I have renounced above(!), I am thrilled to introduce our latest contributor, Pam Dyer, a marketing consultant from Seattle. Her article below offers up a dozen arguments in favor of Social Engagement in the online space. I know that you and I could together come up with an additional 12 reasons, specific to your particular situation, so and I therefore challenge you to make your own list of 8 more, just for the fun of it (and DON’T limit yourself to online opportunities). With 20 compelling reasons to activate your “Media Engagement” endeavors, you will soon be leveraging a previously confusing array of ever changing networks and tool sets, in service to your brand and, more importantly, the long term health of your business.

Social media is fast becoming an essential part part the marketing mix for brands. Companies are increasingly using social tools to monitor conversations about their products, competitors, and industry, and engaging with their customers to build strong relationships. According Forrester Research’s most recent Interactive Marketing Forecast, social media marketing will grow at an annual rate of 34% -– faster than any other form of online marketing and double the average growth rate of 17% for all online mediums:

And new research from Access Markets International Partners shows that almost 70% of small and medium businesses actively use social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to promote themselves. But simply posting what your CEO had for lunch isn’t going to help much with your branding efforts — it’s important to strategically use social media tools to increase exposure and reach your target audience.

Here are 12 compelling reasons to use social media to help grow your business:

1. Own your brand’s social presence: If you don’t create official channels online, it’s only a matter of time before your fans do it for you and create their own profiles and communities around your brand. It’s important to claim your brand name across all the major social media platforms. Here are two sites that will help you do this:

  • KnowEm: KnowEm has the highest number of sites (over 350) available for checking username availability. Simply by entering your desired username, you’ll be able to find out instantly if it’s still available. KnowEm also offers paid plans, from just signing up and registering you at 150 sites, to a full-featured plan which also fills in all profile details, complete with pictures, at 100 to 300 different networking sites.
  • namechk: Covering 72 major social networking sites, namechk is simple, fast, and easy to use. If your desired username or vanity URL is still available, you simply click through each one to claim it. If your brand isn’t consistent across the Web, namechk can help you by determining which usernames are still available on a number of the most popular sites.

2. Look like you “get it”: Your target audience is becoming more shrewd about leveraging social media sites as an integral part of their daily lives. If you want to appear relevant and in-step with the latest advances in technology, your potential customers will want to see you on these sites as well. If you don’t have a presence, you appear as if you’re not very savvy.

3. Brand recognition: You need to go where your customers are, and they are increasingly spending a great deal of time on social networking sites. Using social media enables your company to reach a huge number of potential customers. Getting your name out there is incredibly important — studies suggest that people need to hear a company’s name at least seven times before they trust and respect it enough to become a customer.

4. Take your message directly to consumers: Social media tools enable you to directly engage consumers in conversation. Be sure to build trust by adding value to the community consistently over time.

5. Increase your search engine rankings: Social media profiles (especially those on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn) frequently rank highly with major search engines. Creating keyword-rich profiles around your brand name can help generate traffic for your both your social-networking sites and your company’s Web site.

6. SEO benefits: Many social media bookmarking sites use NOFOLLOW tags that limit the outbound link value of posts made on their sites, but there are still many leading sites that allow DOFOLLOW tags — including Friendfeed, Digg, and Mixx. You can also benefit from posting to bookmarking sites that use NOFOLLOW tags if people read your posts and link back to your Web site.

7. Social media content is now integrated with search results: Search engines like Google and Bing are increasingly indexing and ranking posts and other information from social networks. Videos from popular sites like YouTube can also be optimized for indexing by the major search engines.

8. Brand monitoring: Having a social media presence gives you a better understanding of what current and potential customers are saying about your products and services. If you actively monitor social conversations, you have the opportunity to correct false or inaccurate information about your brand and address negative comments before they take on a life of their own.

9. Generate site traffic: You can create additional traffic if you regularly post updates on social networks that link back to your Web site. Social media bookmarking tools like Digg, Reddit, and Stumbleupon can also generate additional traffic to your site if you create frequent articles and blog posts.

10. Find new customers through your friends: You shouldn’t neglect your personal social media accounts as potential avenues to promote the activities of your business. Posting regular updates relating to your business and activities can remind your friends about what your company does and influence them to use your services or make referrals.

11. Find new customers through your company profile: Your company profile is a great opportunity for you to post regular updates on your activities and about important news and trends in your industry. This will attract the attention of new customers interested in your industry and increase your reputation as an expert in your field. It’s important to post regularly if you want to increase your followers or fans and convert them to potential leads.

12. Niche marketing: Social media enables you to reach very specific subsets of people based on their personal preferences and interests. You can create unique social media profiles to target these audiences or create strategies based on addressing individual interests.

Pam Dyer has 14+ years of MarCom experience, in-house for a number of years at Northwest Nexus and Winstar, and now as a consultant.

If you ask a CMO at one company what social media represents to her, she will likely provide a starkly different answer to that proffered by the CMO at another company. The difference in answer might be exacerbated if the companies work in different market sectors, or if one is B2C and the other B2B, of course. However, the largest source of differentiating interpretation would lie in the fact that social media marketing is perhaps the most abused instrument available to corporations at present (though in some businesses the employee may hold that dubious distinction), simply due to the fact that its potential value is undeniable, but its specific function and application is as yet unwritten.

Let me correct myself on that last point: the function and application of social media marketing is not unwritten, but rather so buried in the ink of prognostication and postulation, that it would suffocate even an arctic seal.

For my money, Social media marketing is NOT an exclusively online or digital undertaking, but rather a relatively recent opportunity that recognizes the influence and power of the end-user, as a partner in the introduction and evangelism of products, services, and solutions. This recognition can be manifest via myriad platforms and channels, including the Internet, mobile applications, WoM, and more. Successful social media marketing is a transversal commitment to manifest and nurture a brand valuation across multifarious sectors. In this way, one is able to both maintain the vitality of a brand, and also reinvigorate it almost instantly through the maintenance of carefully managed yet open dialog with the users of this brand proposition. The cost of such an undertaking are not, as some have suggested, greatly lesser than conventional marketing practices. They are simply transferred, from media to labor.

This factor, along with several others, deserves clarification, and I am pleased to therefore present the musings of my colleague, Tom Pick, below.

As an independent consultant and through B2B technology marketing firm KC Associates, Tom shares expertise in SEO, search marketing, social media, content marketing and interactive PR. In this article, he explores some of the myths surrounding social media marketing.

Though social media marketing is rapidly advancing in terms of adoption and sophistication, many marketers and business executives still struggle with it. They wonder if their organizations are doing enough, if they are doing things right, even if they should be involved in social media at all. This confusion is partly due to some still-common misconceptions about social media marketing…:

1. Social media is so easy we can hire an intern to do it. Because social media is fundamentally about conversations, the individual(s) behind your social media activities is often perceived as the public face of your company. This person is answering questions about your products and/or services, responding to or redirecting complaints, sharing interesting content, providing more information…you’ll probably want to be a bit careful about who gets this responsibility. ->

2. Social media marketing is really hard. True, there are techniques that work better than others, guidelines that are good to know, rules of etiquette to follow and common mistakes to avoid, but the general skills called for aren’t all that uncommon, and the specifics are teachable. It helps to be creative, curious, articulate, friendly and helpful. Okay, so not just anyone can do it, but it’s not rocket science either.

3. Social media is only for the young. Argh, no! On the consumer side, the largest cohort of Facebook’s user base is the 35-54 age group, and the fastest growing is the 55+ cohort. On the producer side, the most important attributes are interpersonal skills and industry knowledge. Age is irrelevant in social media usage, and life experience is a plus for social media marketers.

4. Social media is free. Um, no. While recent studies show that about half of marketers say that social media reduces their overall marketing costs, it is by no means without a price. The primary budget effect of social media marketing is to shift costs from media buying to labor. The tools of social media are (mostly) free, but the time, effort and expertise required to make social media marketing effective has real costs.

5. Since social media marketing is labor-intensive, we should offshore it. Ooh, not a good idea. While offshoring works well for tasks like IT consulting services and software application development, it tends to be less efficacious for market-facing activities. Thoughtful companies keep their SEO efforts local (to avoid link-spamming, for example) and after evaluating all of the costs, many are even moving call centers back onshore. And see myth #1 above.

6. Social media marketing success is all about rules and best practices. Not really. True, there are guidelines as to what works well (being sincere, helpful and knowledgeable) and what doesn’t (trying to use social media sites as one-way broadcasts of your marketing brochures), but the field is new enough that many of the “rules” are still being written. While there are some techniques that seem to work well and are worth replicating, and others that should clearly be avoided, there’s also a great deal of space for creativity in this rapidly expanding and evolving area.

7. Social media marketing has no rules. Now, just because there isn’t an established cookie-cutter approach to social media marketing success doesn’t mean there are no rules. Don’t be excessively self-promotional, don’t try to automate everything, be sincere, add value—there aren’t a lot of rules, but these are a few very important ones.

8. Social media marketing gets immediate results. Almost never. Sure, you may run across an example somewhere of this happening, just as you may hear about a couple who got married three weeks after they met. It can happen, but isn’t common and shouldn’t be expected. Social media is about building relationships and influence. It takes time, but the payback can be much more lasting than a typical “marketing campaign” as well.

9. Social media marketing is too risky. This fear is most common in the medical, financial services, and other regulated industries. And it’s certainly true that there are situations where a company has to be somewhat cautious about its social media participation and content (another reason to keep myths #1 and #5 in mind). By all means, be aware of your specific industry and regulatory environment and put necessary safeguards in place. But people in your marketplace—customers, prospects, analysts, journalists, shareholders and others—are talking about your company and/or industry across social media channels right now. The real risk is in ignoring those conversations.

10. Social media marketing is new. Not really. Certainly the tools are new: Twitter has only been around since 2007, Facebook since 2006, and even blogging has been popular for less than a decade. But social media marketing is fundamentally about participating in and influencing the direction of conversations about your industry and brand. Those practices are timeless, but social media has increased the velocity and magnitude of such conversations.

11. Social media marketing doesn’t apply to my business. There are isolated niches where this is true. For example, if you build weapons systems for the U.S. military, you not only don’t need social media marketing, it would probably be best to avoid it. And there may be a few other such situations. For virtually every other type of business however, someone, somewhere is discussing your brand, your industry or your competitors in social media. You’re missing out if you’re not listening and participating.

To read more of Tom’s articles, go to his award-winning Webbiquity site, where he covers B2B lead generation, social media, interactive PR, SEO and search engine marketing. In fact, he has an article coming out soon that I think will be especially representative of one of my biggest pet peeves: the very mistaken notion that social media marketing can be undertaken in much the same manner as previous, more traditional, marketing campaigns. I’ve said it before, as have several worthy business friends (such as the wonderful Paul Dunay), and I’ll say it again: Social Media is a commitment, not a campaign.