At the beginning of this week, I had the chance to speak at the RICS Social Media Conference 2011 - essentially an introduction to social media for the property profession.
It was a good event, full of useful advice, and one that gave me plenty of opportunity to discuss with people new to social media what their concerns were, and what they really needed to know before they started engaging with it.
Here are what I thought were the key themes that emerged:
1. Social Media is not e-mail
Many attendees expressed dismay about the time commitment that social media might involve. They have enough problems getting through their e-mail, they suggested. How could they manage Twitter and Facebook and Blogs as well? There is, I think, a big difference between these things. Social media is generally more akin to a conversation than a letter. If you arrive at the pub two hours late, you don't expect your friends to repeat everything they've said over that time, do you? Much the same is true of social media. Sure, on Twitter you should check your direct messages and @ mentions, but don't feel the need to scroll back and back to read all that's been tweeted since you last logged on. Similarly, if you're subscribing to a bunch of feeds in Google Reader, don't feel obligated to read every single post, any more than you do to read every single article in a magazine.
2. Simple Tools Can Get You Going
Want a first step to finding discussions about your company online? Google Alerts will deliver links to them straight into your e-mail in-box. These alerts monitor everything Google indexes, and allow you to dip your toes into some of the more specialist Google searches like Blogs or Real Time in an easy-to-understand format.
3. The are positive reasons to get involved with social media
One of the main questions on people's mind was: what will I get out of social media? The answer, as simply put as possible, was: relationships. Most significant business transactions involve a relationship between supplier and purchaser. Social media offers an extremely effective way of maintaining or developing relationships with a larger number of people than traditional methods allow. For existing clients, it means maintaining a relationship in a day-to-day way that just isn't feasible face to face. For potential clients, it means developing a degree of trust that makes them that bit more likely to pick up the phone and discuss their needs.
4. There are defensive reasons to get involved with social media
If you don't define your own presence on the web, and in social media especially, you hand over your reputation to others.If you're not monitoring the web for mentions of your company or key personnel, you won't know what's being said about you. More critically, you won't be in a position to reply, correct errors or help out disgruntled customers. A positive, friendly and constructive response to online criticism can turn a potential negative into a useful positive. Antony Mayfield's book Me and My Web Shadow is a great resource around this.