6 social media tips for newbies

What to tell social media hold-outs who say, “I don’t know where to start.” Or, “I don’t know what to say.”

As a communications professional, every week I run into someone who asks a question about social media that begs the rhetorical, “Why don’t they get it?”

Social media is not that complicated. Really.

Sure it’s dynamic, different and constantly evolving, but a basic comprehension—how to use it for personal and business purposes and why it’s important—should not be so difficult.

If you or someone you know has ever said, “I don’t get Twitter,” “What is the pound sign for?” or my favorite, “Everyone can see my photos on Facebook?” just send them to this post.

Here are some helpful suggestions for accelerated social media proficiency:

1. You must experience social media.

In order to “get” social media, you need to use it.

I recently attended a networking event on social media, and stalked the presenter online before the event. The presenter did not have an active Twitter feed—dormant for more than two years!—and it reflected in her very brief speech about the site.

Before you conduct a Facebook contest for your company or LinkedIn Q&A for a client, start small with your own personal brand. If posting your own content is overwhelming at first, listen and observe. Identify folks you admire in the social space and follow them.

For Twitter, there are tons of great lists available of folks to follow, and I’m sure Facebook subscriber lists are not far behind. Here is a good starter list for Google+.

2. Fake it ’til you make it.

This is good advice for many new adventures in life, including social media. Pretend it won’t feel new or difficult, and get started.

I still don’t fully “get” Google+ and I don’t know whether it will be an important marketing vehicle for my B2B clients, but I have a profile. I am observing others, reading about it, and getting smart.

3. Relinquish control.

When a friend first started tweeting last year, she said, “I just don’t know what to say. I don’t want to sound stupid.” You have to take risks, trust your own voice and unique perspective, and let loose. Try not to over-think it. The more you contribute to your social platforms, the more comfortable you will feel.

4. Shun the “we used to do it this way” attitude.

If I had a penny for every time a client said, “Well, we used to do it this way,” I would be able to shop more often.

Social media is not interested in the past; social media is about what’s next.

Every platform out there is making changes to expand its reach and provide more value to consumers and businesses. LinkedIn expanded its promotional features for business, Facebook is rolling out a new look and feel, and Twitter just launched automatic sign-in on the iPhone.

Note: Your new outlook also applies to the “we tried that once but got burned” attitude.

5. Ask for guidance, not for help.

When it comes to understanding how to best use social media, it’s OK to ask for assistance. Just don’t ask others to do the work for you.

You need a social media mentor or buddy that can support you while you navigate the Web. It might be as simple as identifying a colleague or friend who you believe “gets it” and asking him or her to be a resource when you have a question.

This works particularly well in organizations that match social-savvy employees with senior staff to increase executive presence online.

6. When all else fails, Google it.

There are many social media resources that can guide you in the right direction. However, it’s up to you to use these resources to inform your actions online and understand them completely.

What do you think? Do you have any suggestions for newbies?

Amanda Guisbond is an account executive at Shift Communications and is on Twitter at @agbond. A version of this article originally ran on PR Squared.

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