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The Dos and Don’ts of Social Media

We’ve seen the power of social media—it can create brand ambassadors for your company; it can directly affect sales and increase your customer base; and it can be a platform for outstanding customer service. There are also countless stories of social media coming back to haunt people, sometimes with disastrous results.

While social media can be a great tool for promoting your company and building an enthusiastic client base, it’s important that you know how to execute a strategy that gets results—and how to avoid creating a social media mire. These simple dos and don’ts will point you in the right direction.

DO See What’s Being Said About You Online
Potential employers and clients use the Internet for research and information. You should do the same. Have people posted online reviews of your company? Have you been tagged in photos? It’s smart to do personal research to see what is being said online and who is saying it.

The simplest way to do this is to search your name and company on Google. Once you’re done, set up a Google Alert (www.google.com/alerts) to keep track of new information as it appears. Parameters make it easy to determine what type of materials you want to receive (news items, blog posts, etc.) and how often you want to receive them.

DON’T Be Lured by the “Flavor of the Month”
There are a lot of social media platforms out there, and new ones are being created every day—that doesn’t mean they are all good matches for you. Facebook and LinkedIn are valuable for networking and promotion; Twitter™ and foursquare may not be the best choices for fitness professionals with a private practice.

How do you determine the most effective social media tools? According to Alfred Hermida of Reportr.net, it comes down to a few simple questions:

  • Who are the people you want to reach, and what tools/platforms do they use?
  • What are your objectives (what do you want to achieve)?
  • What is your strategy (how will you pursue your objectives)?
  • What is the most appropriate technology to match the audience, objectives and ultimate strategy?

Dig a little before you take the plunge on any format or “hot new site.” According to social media expert Kaitlyn Trigger, who has led social media strategies for Target and Nike, “It’s good to experiment, but a ‘dead’ social media presence is worse than no presence at all.”

DO Create an Online Presence
Giving your audience an easy way to learn more about you goes a long way toward helping build relationships—and it doesn’t have to be difficult. Creating a Facebook page is much simpler than developing a full-fledged website. You can create a Twitter account—and instantly start posting—without having a website.

While it takes time and dedication to grow your social media reputation, it’s easy to take that first step and begin the process.

DON’T Just Broadcast—Have a Conversation
It’s good to let people know what you’re doing, but don’t turn updates into a daily play-by-play. Limit your Facebook updates to two or three a day. More than that and you risk motivating people to “unlike” you.

Make sure you talk to your audience, responding to their comments and questions. If you’re on Twitter, remember to use hashtags to take part in bigger discussions. Sometimes the most dynamic interactions come about when you post a topic and let people start talking. What are some easy conversation starters? Highlight a current fitness story or trend and ask for opinions. Pose simple quiz questions (e.g., “What are your favorite fitness practices?” “What was your last guilty food item?”). Sometimes the simplest questions can generate fun and engaging conversations among your followers.

DO Be Consistent
Make sure your employment history and experience match across all online channels—and correspond to your resumé or company information. “It’s fine if you rework your job descriptions . . . targeting your resumé is a good thing,” says About.com guide Alison Doyle. “What’s not okay is if your job titles, companies and dates don’t jibe.” That’s a red flag for prospective clients, employers and business partners. So take a few moments to review your information at least once every 6 months. Then make sure you post revised information on all channels when necessary.

DON’T Take a Cookie-Cutter Approach
It’s wise to have your social media sites connected so that one status update reaches everyone, but don’t become an online robot. Whenever possible and/or appropriate, make slight changes or customize your messages based on the format and who is reading. In her 2011 IDEA World Fitness Convention presentation, “Social Media—Fit Biz Boot Camp,” social media expert Chalene Johnson recommended taking time once a week to brainstorm and schedule the following week’s posts. That ensures that you have a series of posts laid out that are unique and informative. You can then use a program like Hootsuite to schedule tweets or Ping.fm to access all of your social media profiles.

DO Think Before You Tweet
Celebrities and companies frequently get in trouble because messages backfire. When you talk with your audience, don’t hit send before thinking about who might read your posts. While it may feel like you’re talking to a select audience, it’s easy for the wrong message to take on a life of its own—generating negative public opinion that could have far-reaching effects.

DON’T Be Inappropriate
How many times have you seen Facebook posts or photos and wondered, “What were they thinking?” In the fitness industry, it’s good to show people who you are and how you approach life. After all, fitness is very personal and is about making connections. Use common sense, however. It’s an old adage, but a good one—if you wouldn’t want your mother or a future employer seeing a particular photo, why would you share it with the rest of the world?

DO Set Social Media Goals
Setting realistic and attainable goals can help you monitor your efforts and understand what is working and what isn’t. Then you can adapt your strategy from there. As Ashley Zeckman of TopRank Online Marketing blog points out, make sure you develop benchmarks for measuring your success. “If you create a beautiful piece of furniture but can’t fit it through the front door, what was the point? The same applies to your online strategy.”

This could be as simple as determining how often you’re going to post per week or setting a goal for numbers of new followers. HootSuite, Klout, Twitalyzer and other sites can provide data and comparative analysis to give you a sense of how your posts are resonating. The key here is using analytics to understand how you’re doing and what to do next.

DON’T Stop With Online Interaction
It’s not enough to have followers—you need to engage them and build your business. Whenever possible, find opportunities to talk to your audience in other ways; for example, through one-on-one online discussions or on the phone. Better yet, try to have a meetup with local online friends and foster relationships that could have long-term benefits.

DO Get the Most Out of Online Site Features
How do you change your privacy settings on Facebook? What are the benefits of creating lists on Twitter? Take some time to learn about your social media sites and the tools they have to make your social media experience more effective. Many of these sites offer easy-to-follow tutorials to help you, and message boards often provide lots of great tips and insights.

DON’T Be Afraid of Negative Comments or Customer Complaints
Social media is a showcase for your knowledge, experience and customer service. It is a community, however, which means not everyone is going to like or agree with you. Don’t shy away from questions or comments that may not be completely positive. Instead, look at them as an opportunity for you to share valuable information, correct misinformation, promote strong messages and turn the situation into a positive. Many companies have built goodwill because they handled a negative situation in a prompt, honest, open way—you should do the same.

DON’T Just Do a Hard Sell

“When you log onto the Twitter page for many fitness professionals, you see the same thing—the hard sell,” strength and conditioning coach Jim Smith says in a post at his website. “The hard sell is when a fit pro creates a Twitter account to simply push their products. This is the absolute worst thing you can do. It shows insincerity (and) disinterest in your followers.”

“Twitter and social media is a party,” says Smith, a LIVESTRONG.com Fitness Advisory Board member. “Go hang out. Talk with people. Help them with their fitness questions. Really make a difference and give them results. And then they will be loyal to you and they will support you.”

Social media doesn’t have to be scary. There are a lot of ways to make sure you’re building a strong presence online while not getting tripped up by bad behavior. Taking time to check out different sites to see how they work and what people they reach, and using some good old-fashioned common sense, will help you understand yourself and your audience—creating your best opportunity for success.

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