Digg, Delicious ..Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn...
is it all really necessary and why should I pay attention?

By: Katarina Bennich, SACC-San Francisco

If a conversation takes place online and you are not there to see or hear it, what could happen?
"Realistically, it is a missed opportunity to engage with your customers. Most brands seek out ways to get people to talk (positively) about them online. If people are already doing that and you are not there, it is truly a missed moment in time. Even if a company is not using social media, at the very least they should be monitoring the conversation online as it will continue—with or without you. Several tools to help with this can include free platforms like Socialmention, Icerocket, Google Alerts or paid platforms like Radian6 and Alterian."

If you must choose one social media platform to use, which one would it be and why?
"Personally, I prefer Twitter. It is an easy way to share tips and tools, answer questions and offer thought leadership. Twitter has helped me to build relationships that have helped me meet clients for my social media consultancy or crowd source for my social media blog. For a business owner, I would say Facebook would be the best choice. It is the largest of the social networks and offers more opportunities for connecting and marketing."

Would you need to be on more than that one?
"It depends on your business and your bandwidth. Connecting with consumers online takes time. Invest your time well in one rather than diversifying your efforts and minimizing your overall results."

It is easy to set up a Facebook page or a Twitter feed but if the expected mass wave of friending and interaction never appears and there is no one following your feed, then what's the point?
"Businesses can not just sign up for a Facebook or Twitter account, post items or status updates and talk “at” their audiences. They have to listen, learn how to engage and become part of the conversation. Do a little market research before jumping into a social network. If you find there is no one who talks about your industry or brand online, then you probably don't want to be there. Every single person or brand who has ever joined a social network starts with a big, giant goose egg (the number zero). Set realistic expectations for yourself on how you plan to engage with your customers, promote your presence and what customers can expect from you on a particular social network."

What can you do to engage and motivate your customers to interact with your brand?
"Think about what is in it for the customer. Do not just share information about your product or event. That is boring. Share interesting and valuable content, like discounts or coupons, industry’s best practices, tips, tools or ask good questions."

What to say and what not to say?
"Imagine you are at a cocktail hour with your customers and friends, and keep your conversation natural and personalized—again, no marketing messages or advertisements. You are dealing with human beings."

Today, everyone is doing it. What can you do to stand out from the rest?
"Everyone and their mom might be on social media, but not everyone is doing social media well. Employ the above advice and set a good example for others on how to use social media—this is what will set you apart."

Are there any companies that should stay away from social media, where it would do more harm than good?
"I will reiterate that even if a company is not on social media, they should at least monitor the conversation about their brand, otherwise the conversation will continue with or without them and potentially turn into a disaster with out their knowing. Companies who do not have the time to monitor and respond to social accounts should not be on social media. The worst thing you can do is to set up a Facebook fan page, Twitter account or another social media tool, have customers come and have no one there to answer their questions or respond to their comments—this can easily lead to dissatisfied customers and have the opposite effect from what was intended."

What are the top three mistakes?
1. Mistaking social media for a marketing and advertising platform.
2. Setting up a social media space and not taking the time to respond to comments or questions.
3. Not monitoring your online brand and assuming what you don't know can't hurt you.

What are your top three tips?
1. Have a social media policy in place before getting online.
2. Consider your work flow (i.e. how much time you spend or who is responsible for what).
3. Develop a response matrix. This is especially important if you work in a highly regulated profession. Online responses should not take more than 24 hours.

Sarah Evans can be seen in the February 2010 edition of Vanity Fair’s America’s Tweethearts, Forbes’ 14 Power Women to Follow on Twitter and Entrepreneur’s Top 10 Hot Startups of 2010.