This post is by Heidi Cohen, president of Riverside Marketing Strategies.

As social media continue to mature, marketers and business executives who have stayed on the sidelines in hopes of safer options are feeling pressured to jump into the pool. The challenge becomes how to do so effectively without drowning in a public relations crisis.

First, survey the pool to get a sense of where your potential community members are and what they expect from you.

Then, dip your toe in the social media waters by selecting one major platform as a starting point. To help you decide which network, here are the pros and cons of the top five social media options.

To ensure your social media initiative succeeds, here are five must-haves, regardless of selection.

  1. Brand monitoring. In today’s 24/7 news cycle, you must constantly check what’s being said about your firm, products and brands. To this end, you must have a crisis-management plan in place, ready to roll out if the need arises. It’s like hiring a lifeguard for your pool.
  2. Social media guidelines. Ensure everyone in your organization understands what he or she can and can’t do as a representative of your firm with a set of social media guidelines. Even highly regulated pharmaceutical organizations, such Roche Holding, have them. Like most public swimming pools, you should post your social media guidelines before anyone goes swimming.
  3. Commitment. With social media, you must show up regularly and participate. Social media interaction requires real people representing your firm with a human voice. It must be integrated into an employee’s job, not something that gets done when the person has time. To this end, it’s a good idea to have a social media contingency plan.
  4. Content strategy. Because social media feed on fresh content, it’s critical to have a continuous supply of information that goes beyond promotion. To accomplish this, use an editorial calendar to ensure you have a constant flow of content.
  5. Marketing support. Like any other business initiative, you must let prospects, customers and the public know about your social media presence. Use existing communications to market your social media. This includes your website, e-mail newsletters, offline communications such as fliers and direct mail, in-store signage and one-to-one customer interaction such as bills and customer-service notices.

As you prepare to take your first swim in the social media pool, bear in mind that to make your initiative successful, you must have goals, strategies and metrics that are in line with your overall business objectives as well as resources to accomplish them.

Based on your experience, do you have suggestions that you would add for executives preparing to jump into social media?

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13 responses to “How to jump into the social media pool without drowning”

  1. Steve Sonn says:

    Nice post, Heidi! The five must haves are right on target. Executives need to understand that social media involvement is not a once in awhile activity. It needs to be scheduled weekly and even daily depending on the platoform. If the commitment to staying active in social media can't be made, I would suggest not even launching until a more opportune time. Launching and then disengaging looks worse than not starting in the first place.

    It's also important not to go in with an overly promotional agenda. Social media is about community. Joining the community should provide marketing benefits by itself. Overly promoting will guarantee people will not want to follow the executive or his or her brand.
    My recent post Generating Great Blog Ideas Made Easy

  2. Ari Herzog says:

    Can you define and differentiate B2B, B2C, and NFP, Heidi? To me, there's no difference.
    My recent post What Bill Dorman Can Teach Us About Value

  3. Brilliant post, Heidi! These are very valid points and are exactly what we tell brands and agencies alike about Social Media. Most just jump into SocialMedia hoping to get immediate results and abandon it when they fail to see these results. There needs to be commitment and proper thought process into the content that goes online in creating the engagement.
    My recent post Social Media Intelligence- Monitoring vs Measurement

  4. Peggy Dau says:

    I love the direct simplicity of your post. Anyone jumping into social media needs to think about the platforms/networks that make the most sense for their business and brand. An overall strategy/plan must be defined before jumping in too deep or their is risk of burn-out, dissatisfaction and mis-alignment. this plan must be integrated with an overall marketing plan and as you say, must include an editorial calendar (identifying resources and timelines – perhaps resources is the most critical element!).__thanks for sharing. check out the series of blogs I've been pursuing with a brand agency about the criticality of brand and social media…next week we discuss the various platforms.

  5. Brian Vickery says:

    Bullet points are great and the graphic is fantastic, Heidi. I always enjoy your posts, and that is why you are in my "Favorite Bloggers" list. I did not have near the support of the above graphic in my recent post, but I talked about not just "dipping a toe in" myself:
    My recent post Social Media – And Perfect Timing in Sports

  6. ValpoCreative says:

    Great article, I find its important to keep your people interested with relative content. Obviously every social medium is different, specifically facebook for instance it takes alot more work then the other social medium and with facebook Images & videos do work well…

  7. Yves Salama says:

    These are great guidelines, Heidi. It can be difficult for organizations to know how to "jump into the social media pool." Many nonprofits, for example, have limited resources to devote to social media and don't have a systematic way to participate. My recent post: Welcome to Social Media University describes that learning about Social Media is (given it's rapid evolution) is an ongoing process.
    My recent post Welcome to Social Media University

  8. Coreen says:

    Great post–you did a fantastic job of condensing the major factors into one very readable article. As for executives, I'd suggest they look and listen before they decide–try some sites out for themselves and see what companies are doing. Many live with the misperception that most social media channels are more for personal use than professional benefit. Turns out, they're both!
    My recent post Is advertising why we buy

  9. Debbie Bruce says:

    Great clear and concise points, thanks for the post. I was curious about your 'cons' for the YouTube format ('limited user interaction & difficult to communicate beyond video'). Some of the things we've found so versatile about video in the B2B world is the large and diverse audience you can reach effortlessly as well as the option to inspire conversation and dialogue via comments.
    I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.
    My recent post Rick Hession – Fresh Ideas

  10. luis says:

    Nice post. For business trying to use facebook pages, I like Cool Mojito to create nice pages without knowing coding or spending money in developers. I tried their beta version, it was free, not sure still is. You can find it in