social media isn't freeIs there a such thing as a FREE Lunch? How about a Free Facebook account?

How many times have we heard “Social Media is Free”? I know for me it is far too many.

Yes, it is FREE to setup a Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, LinkedIn and most other social network platform sites. However, there is much more to social media than simply setting up your username, password and profile pics. And one key word is “SETUP”. What does SETUP mean? Does SETUP happen by itself? And what happens after setup?

I am surprised how many small business owners and entrepreneurs are surprised we  charge them for setup of their social media platforms. I think much of this comes from the “FREE Factor”. Why they think it costs us nothing to setup their profiles always behooves me to question.

Time is our most valuable asset. The cost of time is not only what your standard hourly rate would be but also what you are not doing to move your business forward because of time spent on an activity not building business, brand equity, case studies, customer satisfaction or serving your community.

So, on a positive note, let's talk about some key tips to maximize your early steps into the world of social media.

Social Media REV: BEFORE Social Media Setup

1. Brand:

Questions: What is your company about? What is your core mission and vision? What are your core differentiators? Are you branding your company, yourself or both? What are your top 50 keywords that support your brand as well as resonate with your target audiences.

Action: Develop a message document that summarizes your brand and your core messages. Focus on a create once, use many methodology. Take the time on this and it will save you time in social media setup and execution exponentially.  Start this document and complete the best you can.  Then complete steps 2-3 below and then circle back to the message document.  It should be easy then to update based upon your research.  If you didn't already know your differentiators you should after you better research your audience and competitors.

2. Know Your Audience:

Questions: What makes them tick? What social media platforms “are they hangin' out on?” What do they like/dislike? What do they like best about your products or services? What are they willing to pay for your services? Why are they using your competition? How can your service or product better satisfy their needs than the competition?

Action: Hopefully you have a marketing and business plan which already includes this information.  If you don't, it's okay, simply follow these directions:  Develop a market segmentation matrix.   Start with one master spreadsheet for all of your core audiences.  Prioritize your audiences based upon revenue opportunity, strategic fit, current adoption and penetration.  Then create one sheet which will house all of the segmentation data as a start.  Write a list of questions down the left hand column.  At the top include each core market segment.  As you do your research, populate the spreadsheet the best you can.  You'll be amazed how much you can find with a few Google, Facebook and Twitter searches!

3. Know Your Competition:

This is similar to the “Know Your Audience” exercise but it is focused on your competition.

Question: What is your competition doing that you are not? What social media platforms are they actively and successfully using?  What platforms are your target customers “hangin' out on” that your competition is not? What is their core message? How does their pricing model, price, marketing, positioning compare to yours? How do their customers, influencers and followers seem to be responding to their messages? What mediums, communication vehicles are they using in their marketing? Are they using video, webinars, email opt-in and newsletters, podcasts, online sales agents, online chat, integrated online and offline media? How are they building brand equity?

Action: Do the same thing here as you did for the target audience and segmentation exercise.

4. Set Goals and Objectives

Action: Even though you may be new to social media it is still important you set goals and objectives.  If you don't you run risk of major time waste.  By setting clear goals and objectives as well as a planned amount of time you want to spend on social media you will mitigate the risk of random acts of social media which will eat your time ROI to pieces!  You can and should modify your goals and objectives dynamically in the early stages as you better grasp the power of social media and how it can help you grow your business.

5. Determine how much TIME you can invest in Early Stages of Social Media

Action: Determine how much time daily and weekly you can allocate to social media.  Once you better understand social media, your markets and your competition you will want to set very succinct goals and objectives.

6. Develop a Social Media Policy

Action: You can start basic.   At minimum decide who is going to do what.  Setup a process to document all logons and passwords.  Ensure that not only one person has access to this information.  Decide who key stakeholders are to provide input to content development.  I like setting roles such as producer, reviewer and approver.  Doing such enables you to facilitate the input of core team members and stakeholders without making everyone an “approver”.  This will help big time in reducing the risk of your message document including everything including the kitchen sink!

7. Determine your Listening Strategy

Action: After completing your target audience, segmentation and competitive analysis you'll be eager to learn more.  Ensure you have specific goals for listening.  Develop a list of questions as you are researching your market.  When you find something interesting keep yourself from clicking into too many rat holes.  Instead book mark the page in your browser and make note of it in your question list.  Listening is a key component to a successful social media strategy and kickoff.  However, it is a key risk area for time sync.  Setting goals here for the broader strategy as well as each listening session will help you maximize time invested!

8. Get a New Headshot Photo

Action: If you don't already have one, get a new headshot profile photo taken by a photographer that understands web 2.0.  The current trend is toward white backgrounds wth a very clean look. Bring other colors into the photo via backgrounds, jewelry, and clothes that support your desired brand image.

9.  General Housekeeping

-Setup several email addresses with services such as Google Gmail, Yahoo!, Hotmail etc.  You will want one core email to use for most social media sites and a few backups.  The back-ups come in handy if you wind up setting up several different Twitter accounts for example.  Most sites require a unique email for each account.

10.  Have Fun!

Action: Remember this is not rocket science or life or death.  Do not stay up all night 7 days a week addicted to Twitter like the rest of us.  Instead, have fun with it.  You will eventually learn the lingo, the tools, the trends.  Social media is here to stay.  Although I believe getting on the social media zoom train is a must for any business, you don't have to do it overnight.  A planned, focused approach will get you to positive ROI just as fast as a haphazard “FREE LUNCH” assumption approach with no plan.

We are only a tweet, facebook and phone call away if you have any questions.  You can also visit me personally on my Facebook Fan page.  You can submit your questions via the “Ask the Nut” form and I will respond to you with links back to your site and mention in the blog post if interested!

Best of luck to you! Happy Tweeting and Facebook zooming pals!

I welcome other comments, suggestions etc.  This list is not meant to be all inclusive but a quick summary as I have heard many of these comments this week.  I always try to post content relevant to the buzz, the questions and what my contacts and clients are asking!