For those organizations that have not yet started their foray into Social Media, there is one of two areas that is generally the initial starting point.  These are just the tip of the iceberg, so don’t think that you are done just by getting started.  This will go on for some time as your organization builds its capabilities in using and understanding the value of Social Media.  I’ll talk more about this progression within the context of the Social Media Maturity Model in a future post.  For now, just consider these two starting points, Presence and Listening.

Presence is just showing up to the party.  It could be that you show up empty handed and stand in the corner for the evening, or you brought drinks and food (home made) and you are the life of the party.  In either case, you at the party.  How you handle yourself once you walk in the door will contribute (or detract) to your success.

In the online world, you can get started rather simply by starting a blog, creating a twitter account and creating a Facebook page.  This is a pretty simple starting point and begins to provide your organization with a new vehicle to communicate with others, whether customers, suppliers, employees or anyone else that might be interested in the services that you provide to the market.  In all three of these channels, content will be important both in terms of its value to the reader, but also its timeliness.  You’ll need to keep these fresh and active or you will lose your audience quickly.

The second option for starting in Social Media is Listening.  Using the party analogy, this would allow you to listen and understand the conversations that everyone is having who will be at the party that you are going to on Saturday.  By understanding the conversation, you might just show up with a more appropriate dish, wine that the host likes, and you might actually dress better for the party.  Listening allows your organization to understand your customer base before you put your message out.

I’ve had customers who want to respond to certain tweets or blog posts as soon as they start listening to the conversation taking place online.  I suggest to them that just yesterday a tree fell in the forest, and they didn’t hear it.  Just because you can hear the tree fall today does not mean that you need to say anything about it.  You might just need to listen to the trees falling for a while so you understand what your message should be.

It can be a bit of a toss up as to which you do first, create a presence or start a listening program, but in general I prefer the listening approach.  Listening will provide you a much better sense of the correct message when your organization does begin to reach out into Social Media.

There are a number of tools that can be used to facilitate listening, some of which are free and some that cost money.  While I won’t delve into this topic in this post I thought I would pass along one site that has done some categorizing of the possible tool options.

This post is just over 1 year old, but it gives you a sense of the complexity of the market.  In the past year the market has started to consolidate.  Even today, as I write this post, Sysomos has announced that they have been acquired by Marketwire.

UPDATE –  Between the time that I wrote this post and posted it to my blog, I had a conversation with a major retailer.  They basically said the exact same thing that I had mentioned above.  They are looking to start listening to the conversation, but they didn’t want engage at this point since they didn’t have the resources prepared to keep the conversation fresh.  I think that this makes great sense.  By the time they are ready to start engaging in the conversation they will have a great sense of what is being said.