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Five social media rules to encourage success

In social business, everyone’s an expert these days -- even the frauds. But what are some of the social media rules that could make the difference between success and failure?

ATLANTA -- I’ve been thinking about expertise lately.

In social media, it seems that everyone is an expert -- even the frauds. All it takes is a YouTube account or a blog to dump your thoughts, and you're an expert on social conversation. But can we identify the frauds from the real deal and learn how to use social platforms for real business change?

To be honest, I haven't figured it out yet. There are lots of common terms that frauds and genuine experts throw out in describing best practices, such as engagement, collaboration, crowdsourcing, key performance indicators, metrics.

So too, social media experts and frauds alike agree that not every interaction on social platforms constitutes meaningful engagement, but few can specifically define what meaningful interaction looks like or how to sustain it. If we could just bottle the secret sauce, we could create a template for social success for companies of different sizes, industries and audiences.

I confess that I'm thinking about these issues more on the eve of the Social Shake-Up, which takes place in Atlanta from Sept. 16 to 17. The event draws those on the front lines of social business and I'm hoping that when I return, I will have a few more ideas about what is the real deal in social business versus empty strategy.

Social media house rules

Still, even if social media expertise is an elusive concept, I have learned some social media rules of the road and thought I would share them here:

1. Platform choice. Companies need to carefully consider where they put their social media energy. If your company focuses on career building and professional networking, for example, LinkedIn is going to make more sense than Pinterest.

2. Social sprawl. A corollary of this problem is social sprawl, which many identify as a central reason why companies' social strategy fails. It goes something like this: Initially alight with the fire of social, companies launch a social strategy that can only be described as trying to be everywhere at once. They launch a presence on Facebook Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, company blogs and more.

Few can specifically define what meaningful social interaction looks like or how to sustain it.

But then they wake up to the reality that they don't have the resources to feed a presence in so many virtual spaces, nor do they have a healthy audience in all these places. Often, social sprawl gives way to having to pull up stakes and winnow down to a few essential social sources.

3. Community managers. If you build it, they won't necessarily come. You have to keep building it for your audience to show up and grow. Most experts agree that successful communities have to be guided, coaxed and drummed up by community managers as well as by members of the community. Communities that drive business innovation don't happen organically without someone (or several someones) steering the conversation and helping good ideas percolate to the top.

4. Top-notch security framework. Creating communities that can circulate information and ideas internally and externally requires a security backbone that creates walled, secure gardens, where members and their ideas are protected but can also interact flexibly.

As Rob Koplowitz, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., argues, the real advancements in social communities have been where groups internal and external to a company can exchange ideas freely with one another but the security permissions of each group are tightly controlled.

For example, members can post comments on how to make a product more user-friendly, but then a company's internal product development teams can take those ideas and brainstorm internally without concern that ideas will be exposed beyond a company's four walls.

5. Executive support. As a final note, social strategies almost always fail if they don’t take hold among executives. Grassroots efforts are well and good and may reveal exciting possibilities, but they will never get off the ground if a company's executives don't lead by example. My own company launched a Yammer offensive about four years ago, but without real support from the top, it was flaccid at first, then died.

With the Social Shake-Up this week, I hope we’ll hear more about best practices that can make a difference for social business. Maybe we’ll even discover that secret sauce that distinguishes between success and failure in social business strategy. Get your bottle ready.

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