What is Social Media? It’s more than just Twitter and Facebook.

Editor’s note: This was originally written as a blog post for the MCDM blog at the University of Washington.

Being a Social Media Strategist at Microsoft, by way of Projectline, involves much more than just tweeting and maintaining a Facebook page. It’s about building community. Our product, one in the educational sector, requires a lot of online networking. I work hard to establish and build trust with educators around the world. Microsoft is a behemoth of a company and while you think the MSFT name alone would give you a shoe-in to any community – it simply doesn’t.

Teachers want to know that you are just as passionate about education as you are about the product you are marketing. To show them this, when I tweet out something, I usually always sign my name at the end to help give it that personal touch. Many Social Strategists and Community Managers sign only with their initials in this fashion:  ^EB. I go the extra mile and sign: -eric. On Facebook, I will send them personal emails and comments with my own profile (Eric Burgess) as well with my Mouse Mischief profile. It’s absolutely crucial in this day and age to be as reachable as you can to your customers. The old way of conducting customer service by way of 800 numbers and expensive CMS email software is on its way out. People want immediate access to you – so why not give it to them. It’s all a part of the community building I mentioned earlier. How can you build a community without making you and your product as transparent as possible? You can’t. Below are some important things to consider as you work to build up your community.

1. Are you Tony Hsieh’ing it?

Tony Hsieh is the founder and CEO of Zappos.com. Hsieh inspired me to get into social media. He was one of the first people I was following on Twitter and as I read his tweets I was completely blown away by the amount of time he spent on Twitter. He was so passionate about his customers that, from my standpoint, I consider him a pioneer in social media. He used it to grow his business. And, he was reachable to everyone. I actually received a message from him when I responded to one of his tweets. What CEO does that? How could an online shoe business have nearly 1.7 million followers? Zappos. Because Hsieh worked hard at growing his community. You’ve got to Hsieh it to stay in it.

2. Maintain a Blog
Blogs are so 2000! Not. They provide huge SEO opportunities which will ultimately lead to helping you save money in paid search while giving you a leg up in organic search. Let’s face it, your company’s website can’t be changed on the fly. You may have to jump through several hoops, including working with a developer, just to make a minor change to something. Not with a blog. A blog provides you the opportunity to quickly get a message out via a simple blog post. Want to poll your customer base on something? Blog it. Blogging is community building. Make sure your marketing department and/or higher ups understand this. Additional note: carefully consider the title of each blog post to further help you with organic search. I do on this blog.  =)

Hsieh talks about his new book in this video.

3. Listen to the Conversation
There are a lot of  great tools out there to help you find out where the conversations about your industry or product are happening. I personally use Radian6. With Radian6 you can essentially search for comments, tweets, blog posts, news blurbs etc. on any topic for your specific campaign. It’s an amazing social media monitoring tool. The only caveat is that it cannot search for things that happen within closed networks. Other helpful tools I use are SocialMention, Twazzup, Klout and far too many others to include in this post. Search Mashable.com for more on listening tools.

4. Join the Conversation
You already know about and use Facebook and Twitter.  But are you using them in a one-sided way? What I mean is, do you just post and tweet about your product or service in a self-centered way? What about trying to start an actual conversation on your Facebook page by asking a question? I recently asked all the teachers that like our page how they spend their summer? It’s fun and engaging and this sort of thing will keep them coming back to our page for more. On Twitter, try joining a real-time discussion with a hashtag (#). Each Tuesday for one hour I join the #edchat conversation. From 4-5pm all of my tweets end with #edchat and I can talk with other teachers around the world by watching the #edchat thread update as we tweet.

5. Be Transparent
Being transparent can be hard for some companies. They cower behind their brand’s established persona. It’s a persona that they want to protect and prevent anyone from bad-mouthing. It’s 2010 though and people have opinions about your brand. Why not listen? A big part of being transparent is letting the conversation happen on your own network. A great example of this is the recent online sparring between Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines. At the height of the discussion, many people left comments on Southwest’s Facebook page saying things like: “I can’t believe you don’t like fat people,” and “You guys suck, I’m never flying with you again.” The truth of it is, the people behind Southwest’s marketing/pr/social media teams were very smart for not screening these types of comments. By letting people vent, it actually helped put out the fire.

6. Have Fun
You won’t be successful in building a community if you’re not having fun. We’ve come full circle with this last tenet by saying that Tony Hsieh had a lot of fun doing what he did to build up the Zappos community. It was a huge part of their culture and it showed in his blog posts and tweets. He was clearly having fun doing it. Are you tweeting about things that only have to do with your product or service? Try throwing in some random, fun tweets here and there. It won’t hurt. Maybe take a picture of yourself in your office and tweet the pic with some creative, witty caption.