This first ran over at The Whale Hunters. It’s written with the business leader in mind, but the process outlined below works for anyone responsible for using the web.

Hell has frozen over!

Oh wait. The Cubs haven’t won the World Series yet. Never mind.

But it does seem that way, doesn’t it, with all the changes in technology? You run a business. You don’t have time to keep up. Does it feel like, somedays, you’re being left behind?

You’ve always been responsible for payroll and HR and legal issues and tax laws and retention customer service and innovation and managing debt. Now you also have to be responsible for Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and Yelp and Flickr and Quora and blogging and Foursquare.

Where does it begin? Better, where does it end?

I’m a big believer in using the web for business growth ONLY where your customers and prospects are participating. If they’re on Twitter, you should be on Twitter. If they heavy blog readers, you should have a blog. If they consume videos, you should be on YouTube. But for crying out loud! You don’t have to use every single tool and be good at all of them.

This is not the Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will not come. So, before you determine how and if you should include the social web in your communication, marketing, advertising, HR, customer service, and sales strategies, first figure out where it makes sense to do so.

Following are the five steps we recommend you use in determining if and where you should be participating online.

  1. Listen. The number one thing every business leader should have is Google alerts. If you don’t already have them set up to search the web for your name, the company name, the industry, any competitors, any key clients, and key employees or stakeholders, this is a must have. Stop reading now and set them up. Go on. I’ll wait. This one is non-negotiable. If you want to delegate it, do so, but do not delegate the alerts set up for your name and the company name. If someone says something negative online about you or the company, you don’t want to wait to hear it. You want those alerts as soon as Google sends them. As you begin to grow on the web, you’ll eventually want to pay a monitoring service, such as Spiral16, Radian6, or Sysomos.
  2. Assess. From there, you begin to assess where pe0ple are participating online and where it makes sense for you to do the same. The tools we recommend here are FlowtownGist, and Xobni. Each have their own particular advantages, but we like Flowtown for your existing customer relationship database (even if it’s not sophisticated and just sitting in Excel). You import the database and it shows you, by percentage, where your customers and prospects have social accounts. For instance, ours shows us that 21 percent of our customers use Twitter. Which means it makes total sense for us to have a presence on Twitter.
  3. Engage. Jay Baer explains this process the best. He shows that you begin by harvesting customer stories. Storytelling humanizes the company. Humanization encourages kinship. And kinship encourages sales. Because, after all, we buy from people we like and trust. And more sales equals more stories to be able to tell so you are able to repeat the process. Your customers want to know the people who work within your proverbial four walls so tell stories in order to engage them.
  4. Measure. There is a lot of discussion around the ROI with the social web. We recommend not trying to figure out how to monetize your Twitter followers or Facebook fans. Rather, determine what you want to accomplish by using the web. Is it increased awareness? Is it thought leadership? Is it a higher percentage of qualified leads? Is it helping your sales team convert those leads? It is more traffic to your website or blog? Whatever it is, the social web can help you with all of those things. What it can’t do is guarantee that if you have 20,000 Twitter followers, you’ll be making a gazillion dollars.
  5. Improve. This last step really is to take time, every 60 to 90 days, to review what’s working and what isn’t working so you can refine and improve. Gone are the days of planning every year. Now you must plan, refine, and improve every couple of months.

The last thing to consider: This is not a sprint. It is a marathon. It may be easy to look around and see all of the assuming overnight successes from using the web, but I’m here to tell you, those people have been refining their process online way before Twitter or Facebook were even ideas in their founder’s heads.

Choose one tool, implement it into your overall business strategy, get good at using it, refine its use, and move on to the next one. And be patient. It does take time. After all, you’re building relationships online. Online or off, relationships don’t happen overnight.


Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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