I'm a born button-clicker. Because of training, experience and nature, I jump on any old system and start pounding around until I find what I want. But even in the world of Social Media, not everyone is going to be comfortable with every system - and those of you who who run your own businesses barely have time to read the paper, much less develop a Social Media Strategy.
(For the purposes of this post, "follow" is the term I'm using, but it refers to "friend" "like" "connect" "follow" or any other term a particular network may use to indicate that you and another person are linked.)
Here are a few quick steps to get the most out of *any* Social Media platform:
1) Start by following someone you know.
At this point, it's rare to have no one you know who is on any kind of Social Media platform. You may have a sister on Facebook, a colleague on LinkedIn, a peer on Twitter, a mentor on Foursquare. Before you set yourself up on any network, contact that someone - let them know you'll be joining. This gives you a friend/follow/contact right away and a resource to ask questions of. Perhaps they might be glad to walk you through the system. (They might not - and not every active user is a good teacher!)
Knowing someone on the system you choose also means that you have a network built-in to the platform you've chosen. (See #3.)
2) Know why you are following them
Your friends are your peers, but your peers may not be your friends. You know that, of course. And every Social Media platform has a different focus. You may love your boss, go to picnics with him/her and the family - and be perfectly comfortable adding your boss to your friends on Facebook. On the other hand, you may prefer to keep a strictly professional relationship between the two of you.
By "know why you follow" a person or company, I mean that you need to be mindful not only of their communications to you, but also your communications in return. Are you transmitting the kind of image that you want those people to see? Are your posts confident, cheerful, depressed, determined? Every single post you make will contribute to a whole picture of what *you* are. Likewise, if you follow someone for industry news and all they do is talk about their pet, it may be time to cut the connection.
3) Follow their friends
This is not an absolute command, of course, but if you joined a network with a few contacts already in your pocket, one of the fastest ways to build your network with peers and friends is to look through their contacts.
If your sister's on Facebook and you're the last one in the family to join, chances are she's got all the family contacts. :-) The same is true for LinkedIn or Twitter - chances are your peers have already found each other and you can find them quickly by looking at what groups they've joined, what contacts they have, what lists they've built.
4) Learn the platform
It's a fact that, as an adult, you are expected to somehow be instantly competent at everything you do. As an expert, even more so. I was training someone this past week on a system I had *never* seen before - how does one even do that? Well, I was used to the kind of system type it was, I have experience in similar things, and I'm not afraid to click around until I find what I'm looking for. However, after a few minutes, I found something even better - a tutorial.
Almost every platform out there has "help" or a tutorial. But, because we're busy adults, we skip it, thinking we can figure it our on our own. Well...don't! Take five minutes and watch the tutorial, read the help. Scan the Frequently Asked Questions, you'll see what basics are covered right up front. Use the resources available to you, then ask your peer (remember - the first one you followed) for follow-up advice.
5) Only follow people/companies you want to engage with
One of the weirdest phenomenons in Social Media are the people with 10,000 friends, or who follow 25,000 people. How on earth can they manage amounts like this? There are ways - there have to be, don't there? We'll save that for another post. :-) When you're first joining, if you're not used to the ways on the online world, it seems like a lot of noise, compared to the amount of information you actually get.
To manage this "noise" (discussions of meals, rants about random unrelated things, comments that might seem inappropriate, weather, traffic, etc. Stuff that seems irrelevant, but is actually quite important in building lasting relationships....) start by only following people and companies you want to talk and listen to. That means, your close friends/peers you interact with or want to interact with regularly and companies or organizations you *actually* care about. Don't feel pressured to follow a group because the people you follow follow it. If you don't care, don't follow. You may love your local deli for it's coffee, but really don't want to know about the Thursday lunch specials it's running.
Start small - a few people you want to talk to regularly or semi-regularly. A company you frequently use and would like to know what the news or specials are. A news source you trust and like. When you get used to these, feel free to expand beyond them...at your pace, or not at all, if you're happy with the status quo.
There are no hard and fast rules to building or manging your network. Do what you want to do, the way you want to get the most out of your Social Media.