Five things to do when starting out with social media

By Shel Holtz

Spend enough time with blogs, web magazines, posts to various content sites, studies, infographics, and other content sources and you’ll quickly be overwhelmed with advice on how to get the most out of your social media efforts. Far be it for me to dismiss all this advice – ranging from the best times to post to the best third-party tools to use, from adopting an editorial calendar to boosting posts with paid promotion. But if you’re just getting started, you need to focus on just five things. Once you get good at those, you can move on to analytics, search optimization, and the myriad other techniques and tweaks that can add oomph to your social media.


Serious listening is critical, especially in light of the second item in this starter list. Find the places your customers and other audiences spend their time and listen. Don’t relegate this activity to a sentiment engine or some other kind of machine tool. You need to dive – we used to call it ‘lurking’  – and pay attention to what’s on the community’s mind.

Find the key influencers in your sphere and read their posts, then read the comments to those posts. Find the groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ where your audience gets together and get a handle on what they share with each other. Identify other places they congregate, such as white-label communities or specialized vertical social networks. (A lot of doctors, for instance, spend time on Doximity.)

Make a list: What questions are they asking? What problems are they sharing? What do they consider great (and not-so-great) experiences?

Address audience questions, needs, and interests

The goal of listening is to inform the content you produce. Nobody visits a social site hoping to find the same old marketing and corporate garbage they’ve been hammered with for decades through traditional media channels. Your content should accommodate what they’re interested in, not what you want them to know. Craft posts that answer their questions, solve their problems, pique their interest, and provide them with great experiences.

There’s nothing wrong with having some fun. Red Bull’s CEO famously said 50% of people go online to waste time; it’s our job, he asserted, “to give them some really cool s*** to do when they get there.”

By the way, it’s useful to consider two core approaches to social media. One is creating the content people will engage with. A huge amount of social engagement is kicked off when somebody reads or views something created by a brand, then shares it or starts a conversation about it. The other is direct engagement, such as answering a question a customer leaves on your Facebook page.

These two dimensions overlap as a matter of routine. Your great video could inspire a potential customer to leave a question on your YouTube page. You need to be prepared to answer those questions wherever they’re asked, and do it quickly lest that prospective customer decide a competitor can better address their needs. This is why the next point is so very important.

Let your subject matter experts engage

Within the next few years, engaging in social media on behalf of the company will be part of every employee’s job description. Subject matter experts and thought leaders will lead the way. Among the many reasons for preparing the workforce to participate in social channels is borne out in the annual results of Edelman’s global Trust Barometer study Technical experts are the most credible internal spokespeople for an organization – more credible than CEOs by a long shot. Close behind them is “regular employees.”

Companies are increasingly encouraging subject matter experts to answer questions – from customers and even from the media – when the question is related to their areas of expertise. Even when the question falls outside that sphere, they can respond with an offer to direct their question to someone who CAN answer. (This is especially common on Twitter, where employees see critical references to the organization and want to correct the situation.)

From my own personal experience, it’s far more influential to have somebody who actually works with the product respond to my inquiry than a customer service rep reading out of a manual or a PR person spouting the same tired old answers. There are at least three companies with which I still do business because a subject matter expert reached out to me when I was dissatisfied (or downright angry) with the company.

Add calls to action in every post

Engagement is vital to a company’s social media efforts. On Facebook in particular, your ability to achieve organic reach for your posts depends on how much your fans engage with that content: share the post, comment on it, like it, watch the video, or open the graphic. You need retweets to build impressions on Twitter. Blog posts get more attention when the link is shared. The same is true on Instagram, LinkedIn, and throughout the social media space.

Great content – content that people find useful – is a huge part of the equation. Nobody will share rubbish content. But even great content can be consumed and set aside without a specific call to action. The best social media content asks people to share it, to comment on it (especially effective is asking a question people can answer with a comment), or to take some other specific action. A call to action can take the form of a final line of text in a post, a button, a unique graphic, even a statement expressed at the end of a video. Just be sure you never wrap up a piece of content without asking the audience to do something once they’ve finished with it.

Include images (photos, charts, graphs) or video

Images and video have become vitally important. Publishers know that content without an image or video doesn’t get clicked. No clicks mean lower advertising revenue. Oddly, despite numerous studies showing how important images and video are to journalists, few communicators include the in their pitches; media centres on company websites are woefully lacking in video and image galleries.

Mobile has exacerbated the situation, with people thumbing quickly through content and selecting what to read based on the image. Services like Instagram, which rely wholly on images, have become important parts of marketing efforts by companies that understand the fast-growing importance of graphics.

Charts and graphs are also important, as are infographics, as they convey a lot of information that can be absorbed very quickly. One study found that people were more convinced by an article that was accompanied by a chart than they were by an article without one, even when the graph contained no new information that wasn’t already covered in the text.

Virtually every piece of content you deploy should include a visual element, whether it’s a blog post, a Facebook update, or a press release.

Follow these five steps with content and you’ll be off to a fast start.

5 tips for social media engagement

Find out more

This article draws on the knowledge base from ISOC courses on social media.

Related courses

Social Media courses