In social media, you get out what you put in

I've been running a few social media taster workshops for Destination Digital recently, talking about the benefits social media can bring for small businesses and offering inspiration so they can see how their peers are making it successful.

In a discussion after the session I ran with local retailers last week, a lady said an interesting thing: "You get out of social media what you put in."

And I think whether you're posting the updates yourself, or outsourcing your social media activity to someone else (like us), this is a really good thing to bear in mind.

Be positive, and people will respond in kind

One thing that people worry about is that social media will open the floodgates and their Facebook page will quickly fill up with people complaining very publicly about their product or service.

The first thing to bear in mind is that unless you already have a lot of complaints, or are a brand that people love to hate like Ryanair or Shell, this is unlikely to happen.

Secondly, it's your social media channel and you're in control. Set the tone by talking with enthusiasm and passion about what you do, and make sure you're always positive, friendly and professional manner.

Leading by example in this way means that people adopt a similar tone when they respond or leave comments.

What does this mean in practice?

  • Post quality images of your product - from tasty cakes in your bakery (as Ms Cupcake do, above right) to the plants you've grown this season in your nursery.
  • Be helpful, and show your product in action - we like the way that Vango create YouTube demos (above) of how to put their tents up
  • Talk up your team - sing their praises and show the human side to your business
  • Turn a negative into a positive. OK, so it's raining. Don't moan - say something light-hearted about people needing to bring their wellies when they visit today.

Time spent planning is time well spent

When you're managing your social media channels yourself, a bit of planning goes a long way. This can be as simple as brainstorming a list of ideas for blog posts for the coming months, or scheduling tweets around an event in advance as you know you'll be too busy to tweet on the day.

Setting aside some time for planning will always benefit you in the end as you'll have some structure in place, rather than feeling like it's all a bit ad hoc.

As a result you'll be publishing a higher quality stream of content, rather than a sudden rush of posts followed by silence for weeks on end.

Update the people doing the updates

If you are outsourcing your social media or have asked someone in your team to keep the channels updated, then we can't stress enough how important it is to communicate.

We work with a lot of different clients from different sectors, and it works best when there is a lot of communication between us and the client. It's easy to assume that when you're paying someone to update your social media channels you can just sign the contract, sit back and all the followers will come flooding in.

It's a bit more two-way than that. We want to know what you're up to, the places and clients you're visiting, the new services you're offering. And we want to see photos. Lots of lovely photos!

Otherwise you get this disconnect, and it doesn't quite work for either party. Better communication can lead to a much more interesting feed, which can earn more followers who become loyal to the brand. Putting that little bit extra in can mean you get a whole lot more out.