Online social networks, like the World Wide Web itself, are a microcosm of a vibrant human community.
If you participate on services like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace for some time, you'll notice the same types of people as you might on a trip to the shopping mall or a weekend at the beach.
There is but one difference. While 'offline' you see people, on the Web you see their personality.
Understanding this is core to your effective use of social networks for marketing.
While others will rush into these digital fora blatantly spewing advertising messages willy-nilly, you'll be able to tap into their minds more intelligently. Because by following some simple principles, you'll create an online persona that people WANT to engage with and listen to.
Over 2 years of intensely being involved in various social media marketing channels, I have learned some lessons you may find useful too.
Less Is More
When you're getting started, it is natural to explore many different services. This 'flit and fleet, dip and dabble' approach is often necessary, because each of them vary in significant ways from the other.
But once you find the right one(s) with the ideal mix of audience, features and convenience to suit your personality, stick with it instead of trying desperately to sample all the available alternatives (there are over 1,000 of them as we go to press, so that's practically impossible).
By honing in on your preferred social networks, you can better carry out the important other steps of engaging your audience and participating actively in your online community.
Engage Your Audience
Be yourself. Let your personality shine through. It is your unique advantage over everyone else in the online social media marketing space.
Carried away by the potential to drive more traffic or make more sales, eager marketers often explode on the social networking scene like a bombshell. They launch into what is the online equivalent of a full-throated sales pitch right in the middle of a Sunday morning sermon in church!
Won't that shock the others? Of course. And then, they'll ignore you.
Engagement is not instant, automatic or easy. It is however powerfully effective. Over 9 months, I have 1,000 'followers' on Twitter. We share a relationship - even if it is at arm's length.
Build Your Following
The conventional approach of herding audiences into closed spaces so that you can market to them are long gone. Social media marketing is not as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. These fish are swimming in a vast ocean. You need to reel them in - by using powerful bait... intelligently!
The formula that works consistently is simple. Be interesting. If what you share on social networks is useful, valuable, funny, entertaining, new, insightful or soul-stirring, people will find you - and stay with you.
And because control is in their hands, you have little choice in the matter anyway. Social networks are all about 'attraction marketing'. You attract them into your circle - and keep them there.
That does not mean you need to reveal every intimate detail of your life, like what you ate for breakfast or what you watched on TV this morning. Or even where you live, work or play.
It does mean that you should have a persona - and be true to it. All the time.
I'm a heart surgeon. I also have a little daughter, love reading, travel to interesting places and blog actively. All of these aspects of my life make their way into my posts on social networks.
Almost incidentally, I also slip in the stuff that makes my social networking effective - like my Internet infopreneur business and my non-profit Foundation that raises funds to help children from poor families receive expensive, life-saving heart surgery.
Give To Get
Many people are selfish and self-centered. And these people are on social networks online. While you may hope and wish it were different, in reality, they do it for what's in it for them!
To smartly leverage social media marketing, you must take advantage of this knowledge - and give enough value to satisfy your audience, and turn them into raving, loyal fans.
Only then do you ask for something in exchange - a visit, a click, a sale.
When you do this consistently, you'll notice a reciprocal benefit that grows and swells until you are swamped by a return far in excess of anything you ever gave.
Now, It's Up To You
Will you make your social networking and marketing effective using these simple insights?
They are deceptively simple. But when you try following these principles, you'll discover how effective and powerful they really are.
Another test of their impact is to try and ignore them. You'll see how badly social networks can burn you. But then, you're not going to try, are you? No way... You're smart!
By Dr.Mani Sivasubramanian