Social Media - Before Diving In, Know How to Swim!

Very few of us like to admit failure. Especially when it comes to something that appears to be so easily done by others. But just because it appears easy, is that reason enough to dive right in? Certainly not!

I remember being six years old and spending a typical day at Coney Island. On this particular day my family left the beach and ventured into the Steeplechase Pool. I recall staring at the line of kids of all ages as they anxiously awaited their turn on the diving board. I watched as they bounced up and down on the board and finally made their exit from the board and subsequent entry into the water below. Quickly rising to the surface I marveled at how effortlessly they made their way to the ladder on the side of the pool, scampered out of the water and darted right back in line to do it all over again... and again.

It seemed so easy, and definitely so much fun. I gave it some quick thought and decided to join the action and dive right in. And, dive right in I did! Things didn't go so well from that point as I vividly recall paddling like crazy, just trying to stay afloat. I remember what seemed like thousands of bubbles rising up all around me as I could barely see sunlight beyond the water line. For what seemed like an eternity, I tried to get to the surface and take a breath. Certainly, someone will notice me drowning, right? Or, will they only notice when I hit the bottom of the pool? Well, the next thing I remember was opening my eyes and seeing a bunch of people hovering over me discussing whether I was dead or alive. Others wanted to know if it was okay to begin diving again! Some just laughed.

Have you experienced something similar with your social media efforts? Thinking about how easy it appeared, did you just dive right in? After all, you've seen your teenage kids pounding away on their laptops or smartphones posting on MySpace and Facebook, claiming all the while that they have hundreds or thousands of friends. As you pondered this new world of social media, you heard words that sounded like cartoon characters. How else can you explain your first impression of Twitter, Gowalla, Foursquare, Digg, Technorati, Tumblr or StumbleUpon? And, cartoons are simple, right? So, you rationalized that social media was simple, everyone was doing it, and if kids can do it, so can I. Watch out below as you dive in head first. Worse yet, watch out below as you lead your organization to the end of the diving board!

Alright already, enough of the sensationalistic attempt at journalism. But, I know you get the picture.

So, what do you do if your social media efforts are missing the mark? Instead of giving up and quitting... regroup and prepare. That's right. Regroup and prepare!

Preparing for social media success

1) Define why you're involved in social media in the first place. What are your objectives for doing so? What do you hope (expect) to achieve by your efforts? This is the exploratory stage.

2) Next, identify who you're trying to target with your messages or who you would like to share information with. Of course, it would help a great deal if you knew where those targets communicated and congregated online. After all, you're not interested in talking to yourself, right? This is the identifying stage.

3) Developing a plan on how to spread your message or share information is the next fundamental step. The plan should include how much time (resources) you're able to dedicate to your social media efforts. Messages and information? What should I say? Where do I find information others will be interested in? Obviously, your plan should include these as well. This is all part of the development stage.

4) Taking action is next on the agenda as you execute your plan of action. Post, tweet, link, connect to your heart's content... provided it's in line with your plan that you painstakingly developed. This is where you'll save precious time and not put yourself in a position to consider social media a major time suck. Stay focused on the task at hand. Tweak and revise along the way, always keeping your objectives in mind. This is the execution stage.

5) Last on the list is to establish benchmarks based upon your objectives, expectations, and desired results. This is your scorecard and one that should be on the forefront of your mind every day. It is there for you to analyze your efforts and results. Basically, it's your social media P&L. Did you achieve what you set out do? Why, or why not? This is the analysis and quantification stage.

There you have it. A relatively simple social media plan for success that I fondly refer to as Social Media e-IDEA, which is an acronym for Explore, Identify, Develop, Execute, and Analysis. Try it. I believe you'll like it and will find that it will keep your head above water in your social media efforts.

By the way, the most painful part of my near-drowning experience wasn't from the water in my lungs, or from the hard pounding on my chest and back, or even from the embarrassment and humiliation I felt in front of my friends and family. No, it was the pain of my aunt pulling on my ear, while scolding me for doing something that I was not prepared to do!

Published: June 29th, 2011

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