Social Media is like online dating.

So everyone has said that the place to find your soul mate is online, but getting started is a bit daunting. Where do you start? Once you look around you realize that there are lots of options, but how do you pick what’s right for you? How should you project yourself and what exactly are you looking for in the ideal partner?

In the same way, the buzz is that Social Media is the next big thing for Marketers to get involved in. But where do you begin? Everybody knows Facebook. Do you start there? How do you go about it? And what does a Social Media Marketing campaign actually look like on Facebook?

Often the first thought is to do a viral campaign. Shoot a piece of funny video that gets seen by millions on the internet. Nice idea, but fundamentally flawed. Every minute, 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube. Even though two billion online videos a day are viewed, it doesn’t mean that yours will be, or that it will be shared virally.

So how about a blog? Everyone reads blogs, surely it can’t be too hard to tack one on to the corporate website? And Twitter, what can we do with that?

Once you start exploring Social Media you also see that there are a great many platforms. The AddThis share button that appears on most Social Media savvy sites can facilitate sharing information to over two hundred Social Platforms.

Just like in online dating, the way to begin is to start finding your customers online and merely eavesdropping to see where they are, and to understand what they do in that space. Once that’s done you select a social media platform that many of them use and begin to engage them. You create an appropriate persona and begin courting, giving away enough about yourself to attract interest, flirting and chatting your way into the lives of others until a loyal bond is formed.

Unlike dating however, the key idea behind Social Media is to organically grow your own extended community on appropriate networks.

Scoping the opportunities

When scoping out Social Media goals for clients I do a cultural audit of the brand I am working with. From there we identify key messages that we wish to deliver, a personality to project and a way of engaging the audience that will encourage positive word of mouth. I then identify appropriate platforms with which to engage the target audience.

The first step is to build an online following and you do that by giving the public a reason to engage with you on a regular basis. One simple move is to examine the content of your website to see if it provides good or interesting content that would warrant social sharing. If it does, then tools such as RSS feeds and AddThis can easily be applied to start word of mouth happening.

Which platform is right for you?

A great way to begin Social Media activity is to create a promotional activity that will draw a following on one particular platform. Discounts, sampling offers or competitions can be an uncomplicated way of starting an online following. A number of platforms already facilitate this kind of activity.

If you have an existing email database you also have an opportunity to use that to promote your campaign by driving traffic to your social feed. Be mindful however that you will need to continue to interact with the community that you create from the campaign, once the offer ends, as this will become your ongoing social capital.

Similarly a Social Media add on to an above the line campaign can also be a way to launch your brand in the medium. But it should utilize a platform that is flexible enough to allow followers to interact with the brand after the campaign has ended.

For some brands an Ambassador Program can be an ideal social jumpstart. Harnessing the social influence of customers already involved in social platforms, blogging and/or micro blogging can be invaluable. These programs require long term commitment by the brand to the community, evolving in order to capitalize on the ongoing value of social advocacy.

Small businesses are often successful by starting their word of mouth marketing strategy in micro-blogging. Short sharp blog posts or picture posts require lower involvement if resources are stretched. Also consider using Twitter as one of the easiest ways to initiate online conversation on a personal level, provided you have dedicated Moderators who understand the difference between spamming and the appropriate mix of dialogue with broadcast.

If customer service is your social goal, Twitter is again a great platform to launch in. However if your customers are looking for time saving devices or a value add to your products, a phone app could be the ideal vehicle for your social efforts.

And let’s not forget YouTube. If you’re in the business of creating regular video content, then harnessing the power of this huge community through a brand channel and promoted videos on YouTube’s home page might be the ideal platform for your brand. If photographs are a big part of your fan base’s enjoyment, then consider a photo aggregator or platform such as Flickr that already have millions in their communities.

And then what?

Once you’ve dipped the toe in, you will garner a better understanding of your community and can gradually build on your efforts. Adding a blog to your site will benefit if you have already begun to carve out an online following. Member areas for websites can continue the growth of your following and interactions. Tools, apps and geospacial add-ons can be utilised too. Semantic web technology can be adopted to understand and create intuitive responses to your followers needs too.

You can extend your reach by hooking into more social platforms as you find appropriate. But the most important thing is once you’re in, maintain your efforts and allow your target audience to have open dialogue with you. Just like in online dating, in Social media remember to maintain a transparent honesty, to have a sense of humour, have a bit of fun and to always to attend to feedback or dialogue in real time.