Janet M. Kennedy, Director Market Development, Market Vue Partners

You are in social media, whether you know it or not. As a “private” citizen any personal data that is public domain can be searched and sold. I have friends new to social media who are amazed at the amount of their personal data that is easily found on the internet through a simple Google search or pulled together by data aggregators. I was recently robbed (pure coincidence, but unnerving nonetheless) 30 days after a (now deleted) Twitter account tagged a Tweet of mine.

What about your company? Choosing to stay out of social media because your company is “not ready” or “not interested” is the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand. You are out there and people are talking about you. In some cases they are appropriating your name, logo and business. You should be proactive and claim your name and space before someone else does or take action to re-claim it.

If you are newly entering the social media space the first piece of advice that everyone will give you is to “listen”. Take the time to see what conversations are happening in your vertical. How are customers engaging in the social media space? Are they utilizing Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? Are you in a B2B or B2C industry? Are you managing one company profile or do you have hundreds of retail locations. All of these options require a different social media strategy, tools and execution. If the social media world is completely foreign to you, then a consultant or agency is the place to start.

Once engaged in social media you will see two distinct viewpoints on managing the customer engagement. One way is to hire an agency or consultant to manage the complete process. There are social media “gurus, experts and mavens” everywhere who are more than willing to create content and monitor your conversations for you. It’s a question of control. How much control do you want to have with your customer relationships and what you are comfortable contracting out?

The second viewpoint is to manage the social media strategy and execution in-house. Chris Lake, Director of Innovation at Econsultancy says that social media strategy¬†should not be owned by your PR or Ad Agency. The primary reason is because social media is all about people. The people who speak for your company, the people who respond to your company (customers) and the number of unique voices involved in the conversation. Managing in-house does not mean there isn’t a need for agency or PR support. Outside resources can help you develop your strategy, implement the technical set up and provide team training so you are well equipped to be managing the dialog.

That does not mean running on “auto-pilot” and scheduling all your social media Tweets and blog releases from the back seat. You can’t automate being human. Once you send out your communication, be prepared for the response. You never know, you might end up having an actual conversation.