Maybe The New York Times did get it wrong. The standards editor at the newspaper wrote a memo asking Times writers to avoid using the word “tweet,” suggesting favor for “established usage and ordinary words over the latest jargon or buzzwords.” With Facebook and Twitter becoming some of the smartest, simplest and most affordable ways to engage customers, be thinking about the smartest way to start and make a social media plan (and stick to it).

How to start?

#1. Be strategic
Set a goal and sample. If you want to get people to an event or promotion, test out Facebook ads and monitor the outcome. If you have more one-on-one time, use Twitter to draw a following for product launches or targeted give-a-ways. All tools have outcomes that can translate to numbers. Think of social media as a deli tray; not all of it will suit your tastes, but something odd looking is still bound to be delicious.

#2. Do a competitive analysis
This is where many initial plans go wrong – so focused are we on new customers and leads that we fail to look closely at what competitors are doing (and if they’re doing it effectively). If there’s a void in your industry sector, this should be a strong signal for you to jump in the pool and make a big splash. It’s surprising how many companies fail to do this before diving in and getting wet.

#3. Follow customer conversations
Social media sites have plenty of tools available for this task. On Twitter, Advanced Search, Twitter Grader and Twellow can help you find people who may be interested in what you have to say.

#4. Have something to say
Finding relevant communities means sharing and speaking up. What’s relevant will stick. You’ll find that out quickly enough. If you’re not sure of what you have to say, a little online lurking and eavesdropping is OK; but eventually you have to speak up. You don’t have to write it all … simply reference it. Use current content that’s out there and find what’s compelling to your target group. Learn to link.

#5. Keep what works; jettison what doesn’t
Many social media campaigns falter for two basic reasons: People don’t stick with them, or they fail to do their homework (like a competitive analysis). There are many things that can go wrong, but reputation and brand management should always be priorities in social media arenas. Response time is critical as well.

#6. Have a policy
Set the bar high by having a policy on social media use. Match those policies to fit your corporate culture and brand. This is a misstep for many companies – leaping before looking. The extension of some simple guidelines is good for both internal employees and external consultants.

#7. Don’t forget to measure
Pre and post measurement is always smart. Before you launch any social media campaign, sample customers offline and find a reliable baseline for behavior. What people say before the tweeting begins is important to compare after the tweeting starts. Review is critical to show that dollars are being spent effectively and with purpose.

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