Original post written for cmypitch.comIf you're working in the marketing and advertising business your marketing plans could be fatally flawed. Let me give you an example, McDonald's spent over $2bn last year in advertising, and yet the fifth result in a Google search is a YouTube video posted by an animal rights group - they clearly didn't read the marketing pitch!The example is a classic. It clearly demonstrates that social media has completely turned the marketing business on its head. Blanket campaigns that have worked so well in the past are history; the power is firmly in the hands of the consumer.Here are some tips for leveraging social networking for business and making your customers your biggest adverts.Find your customers. Before you go hell for leather into Twitter, Friend Feed or Facebook do some research. Social networking can be a time sink and to do it right takes effort, so make sure this effort is concentrated in the right place. Check your demographics and find out if your customers use social networks.Don't talk, listen. Use the Twitter search engine to find people talking about you or your company, but don't start talking immediately, listen first. Even better take it a step further and listen for your competitor's name, or search phrases that relate to your products or services.When you do talk, be smart. A person's online social space is a sacred thing; respect it by being smart and polite. Barging into a conversation with blatant advertising is a fast track to getting ignored. Instead join in the conversation and offer advice that's practical such as links to blog posts and useful sites.Let your customers know you're human. Let your hair down - show people that your company is run by humans, not cyborgs. Sharing even the most trivial of day-to-day information helps you to connect with your customers. Link to pictures, video or web content you find interesting outside of your sphere of professional expertise.Don't worry about the cracks. Depending on your business and on the social networks you intend to have a presence on, some things will fall through the cracks. You can't be connected 24/7 but you can mitigate it with some smart thinking. You don't need to read or reply to every comment - be selective. You can also use tools such as TweetDeck for Twitter to narrow the signal to noise ratio to an acceptable level.Learn to accept criticism and talk (don't shout) about the praise. As McDonald's has discovered people will happily point out your flaws. The skill is to react smartly - don't get too upset and don't get into flame wars with customers. Remember it's a public space. Likewise when you receive praise, feel free to show it off, in Twitter you can Re-Tweet (RT) the good news - just don't do it too often as no one likes a show-off.Pimp it! If you're going to have a presence on any social network you need to tell people! Consider adding your usernames and URLs to email signatures, business cards or marketing content - make it easy for people to find you. Also consider including your 'chatter' on your website. Frequently changing content demonstrates you are active and it's also great for helping your search engine ranking.Lastly, there is no black art to social networking; it's really all about common sense. However often the first hurdles you have to overcome can be your own preconceived ideas. Culturally it's very different to traditional marketing and those obsessed by stats and reports may struggle as the measurable benefits are replaced by intangible human ones.The conversation is going on right now - at the end of the day you have to decide if you want to be part of the social media wave. If you engage, sales will follow, if you don't potential customers will listen to your competitors who do.
social networking for business