Marketers & Communicators are asking

For marketers and communicators, the new frontier of social media holds tremendous promise for engaging audiences in completely new ways. But navigating this new space can be challenging – especially when your organization's reputation is on the line. These questions offer guideposts for PR, marketing and communication professionals who want to make the most of the social web, whether they're already immersed in it or just getting their feet wet.

How do we integrate social media with our other marketing and communications channels/activities?

Look at social media as a place to involve your audience in conversations about the messages you're delivering through other channels. Where those messages and your brand are resonating with your audience, you can use social media to give them tools to take your brand out to their own networks. Yes, they'll transform it and make it their own - but what you lose in control, you'll gain back in the credibility, authenticity and reach that come from peer communication.

How can Twitter fuel our marketing and growth?

Twitter is the hottest social network of 2009. At first glance, it's a very limited platform: you make a list of people you want to follow (think of these as your buddies or friends), and post updates of no more than 140 characters to let your followers know what you're doing or thinking about. You can also use Twitter to send direct, private messages to people who are following you (a lot like a chat or SMS message), and you can choose who gets to see your updates....and that's about the extent of Twitter's core features.

How can we engage our customers in an online conversation if they're not interested in talking about our products or brand?

Your brand speaks to an underlying value or values. Maybe it's family and personal belonging. A sense of place. Achievement. Or respect for the natural world. Those are subjects your customers are going to find interesting - because if your brand resonates with them at all, it's because they share those values.

What are the major risks of social media, and how can we avoid them?

Many organizations think the biggest risk of social media is that people will use it to say negative things about them. That's certainly worth addressing, but the biggest risk is actually the opposite: that your organization will create a social media presence, and nobody will participate. There's no shortage of deserted online communities out there, some of them beautifully designed and clearly very expensive. Others garner participation... but the conversations quickly veer off-topic or into belligerent shouting matches.

How can we develop a distinctive voice for our company's blog?

The good news is, it's easier than you might think. The trick? Being yourself, talking about things you care deeply about, and doing it all in pretty much the same voice (that is, the tone and word selection) you'd use for face-to-face conversation. Having only one or two lead bloggers can keep your voice consistent, with occasional guest bloggers dropping in for variety.

How can our site earn revenue?

For ten bucks, I'll tell you. ...Which is actually an example of one possible revenue stream: selling intellectual property. You can also consider charging a fee if you have an especially compelling, valuable service to offer; selling products on your site; and, of course, the most common way of securing revenue, advertising. You need to think carefully about how monetizing will affect the tone of your community, but if it's right for your project, you could end up doing very well.

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