To paraphrase marketing guru Seth Godin: The best time to jump into social media was years ago; the second best time is today.

Cindy Miller

The numbers are staggering.  There are currently more than 1.15 billion people around the world on Facebook, 359 million on Google+; 215 million on Twitter, and 20 million on Pinterest.  So how can you leverage this marketer’s goldmine?

Get started. It’s true; there’s no better time than the present to fish where the fish are.  If more than a billion people are on Facebook, perhaps your business should be there, too.  But beware of a mindless presence on any social media platform.  Your efforts should be strategic, consistent and sharply focused on target audiences and key messages.  You want a page and content that attract quality “likes” that will benefit your business.  To help evaluate how you’re doing, Facebook provides data about the people attracted to your page.  On our own Facebook page, The Writing Workshop, we know that 58 percent of our fans are women, most between the ages of 35-64.  The majority of fans are from Georgia.  Two are from Italy.

Train the right people. For some companies, the best path is to use people outside the company to manage a social media presence.  Others have the resources on staff to create and maintain the sites.  If you have the resources, we think social media should be managed by the people who know your company best — your employees.  Use an outside resource to help develop strategy and train the right people on the inside.  “Instead of hiring college kids to do social, we took people who know our business and taught them social,” said Nick Ayres, director of Social Marketing at InterContinental Hotels Group, speaking at this year’s SoCon, a social media conference at Kennesaw State University.

Create a social media policy. You need guidelines for social media posting.  What’s acceptable for your company’s sites?  More importantly, what’s not?  How will you handle the crisis situation lurking in every company’s social media efforts?  What about the personal pages of your staff members?  How to you ensure your company’s image is conveyed to your standards?

Social media can be a powerful asset to a company that’s purposeful and prepared.  But it can quickly turn into a liability for those companies that are plugged in only because they think they should be. Napoleon said it first: There is no substitute for preparation.  To that axiom we would add purposefulness.

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