No matter what industry you’re in or how sensitive your organization, you need to be doing social media monitoring. At a minimum, set up an iGoogle page and add feeds from Technorati (to search for blog posts about your organization), Twitter search (for tweets) and delicious (to see what people think is worth bookmarking on your site or news coverage). Track the reputation of your company, brands/products, key leadership and industry, and discover where your strengths and weaknesses lie online. (Hint: no news isn’t necessarily good news!)
As a number of other respondents suggest, you need to think before acting. What are your key goals for social media, and how do they align with your other marketing, communications or business goals? What audiences are you trying to reach, what message do you want them to get, and where are they likely to receive it? What strengths do you have as an organization, and how could these strengths be leveraged or developed in new ways online?
Develop a coherent (if not complete and exhaustive) strategy, if only to establish the parameters under which you will or won’t comment on blog posts and other online discussions of your company or brand. Better yet, identify the key opportunities — the one or two social networks to focus on, the blog or online community you want to launch yourself — and develop a creative approach that delivers real value to your customers in those specific contexts.
This is also the moment to ask yourself: do you even want or need to engage with social media? Yes, everyone should be monitoring — but there are organizations that are not ready to speak for themselves in the rough-and-tumble of blogs and social networks. If you work in a sensitive field (e.g. law enforcement) or a highly risk averse organization, less may in fact be more (at least for now.)
Once you’re clear about your fundamental strategy and key opportunities, it’s time to get your feet wet…without getting up to your neck in criticism and conflict. Whether engagement looks like commenting on the occasional blog post, or launching your own full-scale social media presence, be sure to plan for a variety of eventualities: from public criticism to (far more common!!) apathetic uptake.
Start your social media engagement in a form that will be robust in the face of limited success: launch a blog that works great even with few comments; leave encouraging comments for those customers who take the time to say nice things about you online. Build your level of engagement over time as your confidence and experience grows, and make sure you leave yourself the resources (dollars, staff, attention) to not just hope for success, but ensure it!
Last night I went on one of my periodic LinkedIn answering binges. Since LinkedIn doesn’t provide me with a way of directly aggregating my own answers back onto our site (!!) I’m manually posting my answers back to this site.