Get Your Social Media House in Order for 2011

Last Updated Dec 13, 2010 4:09 PM EST

One of the things I read and hear repeatedly is how businesses don't need to have a presence on every single social media platform around.

BNET's Michael Hess recently wrote a terrific post on this, where he said:

"... if you are like many companies, you're doing a lot of stuff just because others are-- because it seems like you should. If you are dedicating resources to keeping up with the digital Joneses, is it doing anything for your business? Are you doing more than you need to? What has your Bebo page done for you lately?"
I couldn't agree more. I've lost count of the number of social networks on which I'm registered, but I can tell you the ones I pay the most attention to, and they are three: Twitter, Facebook and Amplify.

My secondary networks are Slideshare, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn and Quora, though I don't engage with them nearly as much.

If you're like many small business owners, you know social media is changing the face of business, so you've jumped on the bandwagon -- maybe too many bandwagons. And now you've lost sight of your social media strategy. Take a deep breath, and consider the following to put your social media house in order in 2011.

1. What networks do you need to be on?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. Given their massive growth, Facebook and Twitter have become almost the de facto platforms for businesses. However, if your target audience is on smaller, niche networks, then it's your job to research, find, and then join your users there. If your business isn't in the music/performance space, for instance, don't waste your time on MySpace.

The one caveat to this is that I think it's a good thing to have accounts on most social networks, even if you don't use them regularly. You may find that they become more important to your marketing mix, and maintaining consistency among your social media properties is important from a branding point of view. So my suggestion would be to go ahead and sign up with your chosen (or closest available) handle, and you worry about if/how you use it later on.

2. Be smart about posting.
Most business owners worry about the time it takes to actively manage and engage in social media... and I don't blame them.

But there is a huge difference between aimlessly wandering the Interwebs' highways, with no clear idea of why you're there (let alone where you want to get to), and engaging well while still not being "on" all the time.

Make 2011 the year when you finally check out the tools available to help you manage your activity on multiple platforms at one go. HootSuite, for example, lets you integrate several networks into one dashboard, and you can cross-post to them simultaneously, which is a huge advantage. It also allows you to schedule posts, which can be very useful (just don't make a habit of scheduling all your posts and never checking the replies).

Amplify lets you do the same thing. In addition to giving you a space where you can post updates and questions with far more characters than either Facebook or Twitter allow, you can cross-post your updates to several platforms.

3. Commit.
What do they say about omelets and eggs? You can't make the one without actually using the other. It's the same thing with social media; you are not going to be able to build a community, meet potential customers, or start the (usually slow) process of converting those customers into evangelizers without committing to using the platforms.

Once you've identified where to spend your time and how you're going to engage, draw up a schedule for yourself, and any team members who will help you. If you're concerned about time, use a time-tracking application such as Toggl (which has free and paid versions) to allocate your time. And then use them; not just to promote your company or product, but to actually listen, learn, share and engage.

I'm not going to tell you this won't take time; it will. But making a schedule and trying to stick to it will allow you to get your feet wet without being overwhelmed.

Image: upturnedface via Flickr, CC 2.0
Shonali Burke is Principal of Shonali Burke Consulting where she helps turn businesses' communication conundrums into community cool. She opines on PR and social media at Waxing UnLyrical and is considered one of 25 women that rock social media.