You’ve probably read or at least ‘seen’ more articles on social media than any other topic in recent years, but what do you know? What do you truly know? Social Media is often criticised for being ‘too wishy-washy’, ‘not an exact science’ and ‘without direction’ but are there rules of social media? Are there a handful of basic tenets that lie at the bottom of very successful venture onto Twitter, Facebook, et al?

Probably (now how ‘wishy-washy’ is that?). Here are five essentials of social media that if you overlook, ignore or brush-off will leave you failing, potentially doing your business damage and most certainly wasting your time.

  1.  Create a social media strategy

It may sound like a ‘buzzword’ kind of phrase but a strategy for your social media is probably the most important strategy you could write. Before you embark on your journey to social media success you need to plan how you are going to get there and most importantly where ‘there’ is. What do you want to get out of social media? If it is increased direct sales, prepare to be disappointed.

Some will claim success here, but it does appear to be the Golden Goose that the world continues to look for. Brand awareness and customer engagement are the key areas social media can help with so should form at least part of your plan and ambitions. Yet how you achieve that, what social networks and tools you use to achieve that will again depend on where you want to go and what you are most comfortable with.

  1.  Free does not mean no investment

For many an ageing business executive the wonders of social media are magnified by the fact that getting on Facebook, Twitter et al and using it is FREE. Free use however does not mean free success. We all have the free use of the air around us but without the proper care for our environment or our bodies being unable to use it properly, we struggle. The same is true with social media. It needs support and investment.

That means trained people with the right skillset to deal with it. That means suitable day-to-day tools to post, schedule and analyse results and track followers etc. That means branded pages, apps and add-ons that encourage engagement on a subliminal basis. That also means understanding and implementing social media across the business too. It is not a stand-alone tool it should be at the very heart of your business. All those man hours, all that training and all those subscriptions to analysis tools costs money, but are investments soon rewarded.

  1.  Social media is relational, not transactional

So says social media guru Michael Hyatt and we don’t disagree. Social media is at its best building relations with customers and would-be customers. It is also a great tool for developing relationships with suppliers and would be suppliers. As indicated above, it is not strong at building direct sales. It can build indirect sales, as you build trust and reputation with those you have built relations with. The worst thing you could do is to grant access to your social media accounts to your sales team.

The hard sell via social media is doomed to failure in all but very few situations, that’s not what people sign up to. In the social media sphere it is ever so easy for a customer to unlike or unfollow and few will re-consider even if it is a spur of the moment decision. Too much sales patter and you will see followers and fans leaving in drones and the old adage of the cost of retaining the existing customer being cheaper than recruiting a new customer is very relevant to social media – probably more so as making dis-satisfaction known and spreading that message is so much easier online for a disgruntled customer than traditional offline options.

  1.  Never neglect

Too often businesses will launch into a new social media account on the back of a campaign. They will work hard on building numbers, pushing content and engaging with their audience. Then the campaign is over and they stop. #Totalfail as the Twitter hashtag may read. Remember the slogan ‘A dog is for life not just for Christmas’? The same applies to social media, you can’t pick it up, drop it and forget it. That will do more damage to your business than never having the account to begin with.

Stopping also includes forgetting some of the important parts of the job. Often when a business winds down its social media push it will revert to ‘ticking along’ with some scheduled generic messages. Again these don’t work unless they are part of a bigger strategy. You need to be monitoring your accounts, you need to react to comments and you need to engage throughout. Without engagement your followers are meaningless, they will forget you as you have forgotten them and your previous time and effort will have been wasted.

  1.  Content is king

Another of those old adages from traditional media that is even more relevant in the social media sphere. What you post on social media is key to getting engagement. Remember this may be the first view of your company for many, so if your posts are littered with grammar and spelling errors, they stand out and reflect badly on your professionalism. Not that grammar and spelling are everything on social media, indeed there is a whole acceptable suite of abbreviations and shortcuts on Twitter especially because 140 characters is next to nothing if you are wanting to spread a message.

That however, is where that trained social media expert comes in. The skillset of your social media expert is part journalist, part counsellor and one who is worldly-wise but also able to mix and relate to all ages. What they create on the social media networks every day for you is probably seen by ore eyeballs than your sales brochures will be seen in a year. They are very important as is what they post. They deserve your attention.

That’s five but there are many more. Are these the most important? That’s for you to decide but certainly if you follow these correctly you will be on the right road to social media success. What do you think?