Making sense out of the social media craze can start or boost a business through people networks

  • <b>By Laura Christianson</b>
  • Wednesday, December 30, 2009 11:46am

Like 80 percent of all Americans, I had an itch to write a book.

In order to land a book contract, I had to develop a brand. Establish myself as an expert in my niche. Become known.

Only one problem: I was a virtual unknown. Aside from my work contacts and friends, I was just a regular Snohomish mom.

How do I get known? I wondered.

“Start a blog,” suggested a friend who’s a marketing expert.

That was back in 2004, when hardly anybody (myself included) had heard of blogging. Never one to waste time, I purchased a domain name (laurachristianson.com) and within 24 hours, launched an informational blog that discussed adoption-related issues.

Within six months, Forbes magazine discovered my blog and featured it as their “Best of the Web” parenting blog.

Suddenly, I was known.

In 2006, I landed a contract for my first book, partly because I showed my publisher statistics proving my blog had loyal followers who were likely to buy The Adoption Decision.

Other authors began asking me to show them how to blog. Event planners hired me to teach blogging workshops. Business owners brought me in to train their staff how to blog. And how to do Twitter. And Facebook. Some of them even hired me to blog and tweet for them.

As my consultancy bloomed into a full-time business, I realized I’ve been doing what we now call social media marketing my entire career. During the ‘80s I taught high school students a modified form of blogging (I advised the school newspaper) and Facebook (the yearbook).

Through every career shift (teacher, freelance writer, PR pro, author, consultant) I’ve focused on helping others communicate effectively. My goal in this column is to help you — my fellow business

professionals — understand how to use social media to grow your business. Let’s get started.

“Social media” is a nebulous term; I prefer “relationship marketing.” It’s about conversation and collaboration; using the latest technology tools (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn) to engage your prospects and customers.

Relationship marketing requires a mindset shift for business professionals who are more comfortable with traditional marketing methods such as advertising, brochure distribution, or cold calling.

At its best, social media marketing is selfless, simple, and strategic.

Selfless. Give away useful tips on your blog. Respond immediately to customer service issues via Twitter. Ask customers questions on Facebook. Create a LinkedIn group of local entrepreneurs in your niche. Post a video tutorial on YouTube.

Give 85 percent of the time; limit promotions to 15 percent of your content. Invest your energy in connecting with your customers.

Simple. Choose one medium you are most drawn to. Use that platform consistently for three months — until it becomes habitual — introducing yourself, your products, and your services to the audience with whom you want to connect. Add a second social medium only if you believe it will benefit your business.

Strategic. If you approach social media with an “I’ll do it when I have time” attitude, you’ll never do it. As soon as you’re finished reading this column, re-evaluate the marketing you already do. How can you use relationship marketing to enhance your existing marketing? Outline a one-year and five-year plan that details informative, entertaining content you can share with others.

You are an expert in your field. Believe it. Act on it.

Laura Christianson owns Blogging Bistro (www.bloggingbistro.com), a Snohomish-based company that helps businesses enhance their relationship marketing through Web sites, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Contact her at 425-244-4242 or laura@bloggingbistro.com.

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