While I know I haven’t hit expert status yet, I’m just itching to start a social media consulting business. That, or at the very least, I’m ready to offer some free ideas to a few businesses that I’ve “fanned” because I think they may be teetering on the edge of losing their audience…

I’ve quickly noticed that many people are getting onto facebook and twitter the same way they started web pages 10+ years ago. Once upon a time businesses were told that in order to be successful, get a website. Now, the same thing is happening with SM. But many are still a bit foggy as to how to integrate any or all of these tools into a business plan. To use them as a place marker or billboard just wont work. I believe there are many bad websites out there because of this lack of vision and incorporation into an overall company plan and now the same goes for SM sites as they start popping up in my live feed.

My company is a bit guilty of this scenario with SM. As the online sales consultant, one day I came into work, pulled up the website and all of a sudden there were facebook and twitter buttons on our home page! Great! Our marketing company managed to win the battle to move us into the SM age, but no one told me… and I quickly gathered it was going to be my responsibility to run these accounts!

I walked in to talk to my boss with a big question mark on my face, and he said, “Give me a calendar of what we’re going to do with it.” I’m thinking a calendar? Am I going to have to run every article I want to post and tweet by this busy man beforehand? That’s not going to work with the organic quality of SM. I also had to get him to understand we can’t hit people over the head with our message, that’s not what it’s all about. Up until this point my company relied on eblasting our database on a regular basis. Too regular! I used to send out TONS of eblasts. And they were all about us. I did not want SM to become like that or it would be a failure before it even got started.

I quickly convinced my boss that a calendar wasn’t really going to happen and instead I drew up a set of guidelines on how we were going to use social media. Having been thrust into the waters of SM I’ve had to learn to swim quickly. Luckily I caught on fast and had some great advice from folks like Mike Lyon, one of my mentors for online sales training, and Naoma Doriguzzi a great local social media trainer. I spend a lot of time combing for helpful articles and information about the industry, verses just talking about us. I’d love our home owners to post pictures and testimonials on our facebook page, but it’s a slow evolution. The best part is, I’ve been able to cut back our eblasts from 2 a week, to 2-4 a month.

Maybe I’ve just read a lot in the last several months about best practices, or maybe I just had more common sense and creativity to begin with, but now I’d love to use what I’ve learned to help local businesses and individuals tweak their media presence. I’ve already found that several pretty cool organizations have “friend” pages instead of “fan” pages. I don’t know if this is because they started before fan pages existed, or because they didn’t know how to go about setting up a fan site. Either way the time has come for them to migrate their contacts. The longer they wait, the more fans pile up in a system that is less than ideal. Change to a fan page as soon as possible. You may lose a few contacts, but do it, and do it now. It’s too clunky to expect people to request your friendship when you are a business. I think in general people are more likely to follow through with a fan invite verses a friend request. And when someone becomes a fan it often shows up in your friends’ feeds. It doesn’t do that anymore when you friend someone.

I also see some great businesses out there that are right on with their fan page, and they have great information, but it’s too much information. I really do want to read about what my friends are doing and not just the businesses I’ve fanned. One important rule I’ve created for myself on facebook is to LIMIT the number of posts a day, and spread them out. Really only 1 or 2 tops. You don’t want to dominate someone’s facebook feed, that’s the best way to get yourself hidden or defanned. Twitter is a little more forgiving in volume but watch how close your tweets are too. Too many in a row look like spam.

Other businesses out there always send out the EXACT same messages on a daily basis. You need to mix it up. Find creative ways to pitch your business and not just by talking about the business itself. The 80/20 rule is all over the web. If you looked up a few articles on social media you’d find experts (real experts not just me) telling you to spend 80% of your time talking about other things and only 20% talking about what it is you are trying to sell. That doesn’t mean those other things need to be mundane, “I woke up late today, missed my cup of coffee and now I’m on the move.” I save those for my personal facebook updates. Your 80% can be related to your business, but it can be a lot of different things.

If your business is all about selling hammers, and you have a happy hour once a month to sell hammers, your fans are not going to want to read on a daily basis that, “back by popular demand is the Hammers Happy Hour! Come to a fun filled evening of hammers and hors d’oeuvres.” There are so many other things you can write about during the month leading up to that event. You can post pictures of people who have happily purchased your hammers and found success with them. You can post their testimonials. You can post some little known facts about hammers that are interesting, anecdotal, or wacky. You can post pictures from your last hammer happy hour and show how much fun people had demonstrating hammers. Perhaps people were dancing on the bar top spinning hammers, now wouldn’t that be a fun picture. You can post interesting articles about hammers that people (who are interested in hammers) will probably read. But there’s no need to pound people over the head with the same hammer invite every day. That’s the quickest way for people to hide you, or un-fan you and then you’ve lost your audience.

If I sound critical, I’m really not trying to be, I’m just trying to be helpful and share some of the knowledge I’ve gained from not just being in sales, but being a consumer too. I know I still have a lot to learn, and I’m always open to suggestions.

This is just a little free information as I explore and refine my own process.