I was fortunate to attend two master classes on social media in the past month. One by Alex Pirouz of Linkfluencer, who focuses on effectively using LinkedIn, and another by Jeff Sheehan, who has amassed a Twitter following of over 300,000 and is one of the top marketers on Twitter.
They both shared some simple, but often overlooked and misunderstood, steps that lead to social media success:
1) Create a Plan
Before you venture onto any social media platform, develop a master plan about why you are there in the first place. What is your end goal for using that platform?
I connect with many people on LinkedIn and Twitter because I always need guests for my radio show and I love to have experts like Alex or Jeff to reach out to when I decide to cover a topic for my column.
Is your goal to drive additional business, be seen as a thought leader, promote your product line or build your funnel? The clearer you are on your outcome, the greater your chance of success.
2) Build Your Connections
In order to grow your connections, you must strategically reach out and make the right connections. Remember that it’s not about “numbers”, it’s about quality of connections and depth of relationship.
Jeff points out if your company sells a niche product or service, the connections you need to make on social media channels will also be narrow.
Alex encourages individuals using LinkedIn to reaching your target market rather then connecting with everyone and anyone.
Look back at your outcome for using LinkedIn or Twitter in the first place and create an ideal client avatar in order to reach that outcome.
3) Use Social Media Features
It’s not all about posting, tweeting, sharing and liking.
Each of the social media platforms includes features that allow you to be more effective with your time and marketing. On Twitter, you can organize your followers into “Lists”. LinkedIn allows you to “Tag” your contacts and both platforms have robust search features that allow you to narrow the content and connections you view to those most relevant to your research or needs.
While these features will not replace your current contact management system, they do provide a powerful way to gather new intelligence and ultimately improve your sales and marketing effectiveness.
4) Share Something Useful
The number 1 mistake all social media novices make is what they share. Keep this in mind “Educate me and I will buy from you”.
Before you post, ask yourself: Is the content useful to your audience? Will it help them do their jobs more effectively? Does it teach them something they didn’t know before?
5) Use What You Learn to Maintain Connection
Before you head out to a networking event, make that phone call or send that email, take a minute to see if your contact has shared anything significant.
Jeff points out that this is a far better conversation starter than the typical “How are you doing?” and can provide you with a reason to reach out if you haven’t connected with someone in awhile.
6) Ask for the Sale
The rule of thumb is that for every 4 or 5 posts you provide that are educational or about your followers, one can be about you. This can be promoting an upcoming webinar, an event you may be speaking at, a free download, a new product or service.
This is especially true if you are sharing the right message across the right channel. Alex loves to use LinkedIn to share information with others about growing their businesses using LinkedIn. Most of Alex’s shares are useful tips about strategies you can use on LinkedIn to grow your business and occasionally he promotes his webinars about his Business Accelerator program.
7) Engage and Be Authentic
If someone follows you, shares your content or sends you a direct message, make sure you engage. Many of my interactions on social media have turned into meaningful connections that have helped me grow my business or find the information I needed to answer a pressing problem.
In fact, I met Alex via a LinkedIN conversation and Jeff via Twitter. I now know them both personally and count them among my close business contacts.
If you still haven’t ventured on to social media, or aren’t using it to help grow your business, it’s not too late. Don’t let your competitors beat you to taking advantage of this rich channel to grow your business and connect meaningfully with customers.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.