So you've decided to find out what all the fuss is about and get yourself a Twitter or Facebook account for you business. Now what? What can you expect? How do you make the most of it?
When the internet first became wildly popular, way back around 1998, many were under the impression that all you had to do is post a website and suddenly you'd have an audience of millions. Posting a new website inspired the kind of excitement expressed by Steve Martin's character in The Jerk, when he first got listed in the phone book. As it turned out, of course, a website is a nice addition to your communication tool box, but not a total marketing solution. Online social networks are the same. The value you get from them depends on how you use them.
Your online social network sites can help you reach and stay in touch with more people, but don't expect all of your "followers" to hang on your every word, or even read every post. They're likely following hundreds of other people as well. Don't use your online networks to replace your face to face contacts. They can compliment your other forms of communication, but a handshake is still worth a thousand "tweets".
If you have a business based Facebook or Twitter account, keep it focused on the business. If I'm "following" Bob's Hardware store, I'm looking for updates regarding Bob's Hardware store. I'm not interested in how Bob's cat is doing. Save that for your personal page.
Value quality contacts over quantity of contacts. Networking as a science is still in its infancy. There is a popular formula that puts the value of a network at the square of it's number of members. This is not accurate. Bill Gates recently quit Facebook because he was overwhelmed with "friend" requests and updates. You can only process so much information in a given period of time. Do your best to ensure you're getting valuable input. Connect with people who are really interested in what you're trying to communicate.
Don't "over-tweet". I have dropped several people that I had been following on Twitter because they felt compelled to send an update 5, 6, 10 times a day, or more. When I check my Twitter or Facebook page, I want to be able to scroll down a page or so and see messages from a variety of people. If you're taking up half my page, you've gotta go. If you really have that much critical information to put out every day, perhaps you should hold a press conference. Limiting yourself to 1 or 2 short messages a day will also help ensure that you're making quality, meaningful posts, and your "followers" will be more likely to continue to read them.
Don't fall for services that claim to "get you lots of followers". First of all, randomly collecting meaningless followers will only fill your network with clutter and actually reduce its value. Second, these services require you to follow others who have also signed up for their scam and they broadcast spam through your account, further diminishing its value.
Promote your network partners. I've never been a fan of networks that require you to promote your fellow members. I have no desire to be a 24/7 salesman, but when the opportunity presents itself, I try to recognize it and get in a plug for friend when I can. Making quality referrals as opposed to large quantities of referrals maintains your credibility and makes your referrals more effective. If you're trying to think of a good "tweet" for today, consider simply mentioning that you worked on a project with "Gino's Jewelry Repair" today. Gino gets a little exposure and your followers get a little insight into what you do and the type and variety of businesses you work with.
While others may disagree, I don't see online social networking accounts as a great mass marketing tool (although paid ads on the site can be a great value, but that's another story.) I see them as a great tool for expanding and maintaining a personal, wide-spread and powerful network of contacts. It allows you to communicate directly and regularly with individuals from across the street and across the planet. It's a better tool for sharing ideas than for making sales.