Sick of social media yet? At the same time, does it feel unsettling that others, particularly businesses, have figured out how to use social media to generate publicity? And mostly free publicity at that?

If leveraging the power of Twitter and Facebook seems like a necessary evil – and your customers seem to view it that way, as well — you’re not alone. B2B customers, in particular, are known for being very wary about anything communicated through a social channel. So much so that a message of real value, delivered that way, could find itself bouncing off walls of skepticism.

Since social media seems to be working for some, though, what are the keys to using it effectively, business-wise? Can a medium known for light, fluffy and personal be turned into a vehicle for pitching bona fide services and products?

Bringing method to the social madness

According to the folks at Vocus, there are nine ways that social media can be used to generate publicity.

    For Facebook:

  1. Link to your story on your company’s wall, thereby promoting news about your company to an entire network at once.
  2. Post something from the story that speaks strongly on a gut level. Readers bored by a headline might gravitate toward a factoid or two, prominently and simply communicated.
  3. Grovel for a Like!, which probably shouldn’t become a habit. Maybe something along the lines of, “This is a great story [and it had better be], and I’m asking friends to ‘Like’ it so that the news can spread to as many people as possible.”
  4. Share the story on your personal page. A friend of a friend might turn out to have media contacts (or be an actual media person) who takes an interest in something that he or she “discovers” rather than feels has been pushed on them.
  5. For Twitter:

  6. Tweet the story link, sometimes more than once with perhaps with a slightly different headline. Or, if there’s strong, immediate reaction to the story, possibly tweet that. Sometimes it takes more than once to grab someone’s attention. But don’t cry “Wolf!” Even slightly. No one ever liked that kid again.
  7. Scratch fellow tweeter’s tweets, and they’ll scratch yours. While that starts to sound wrong, what’s intended is to promote the people who promote you. And be generous with your thank you’s.
  8. Hashtag the tweets, using the pound sign followed by words that are germane to your industry. Media types following that hashtag, even for completely disparate reasons, will likely see the story link and might take an interest. They don’t get all of their story ideas from grumpy editors and spammy e-mails that say, “For a good story, click HERE!”
  9. A couple of what Vocus calls bonus tips:

  10. Consider Pinterest, which, over the last year, reportedly enjoyed a greater than 1000% increase in unique visitors using PCs and a more than 4000% increase in mobile visitors.
  11. And there’s always, for now anyway, Google+. Stories that are “plussed” on Google stand to gain ground in terms of page rank when queried through search, which can only help those looking to generate attention.

“Give them something to talk about”

At the same time, says the Wall Street Journal, take care how you decide to promote content via social media. Posting a YouTube video that resonates in huge ways with viewers – because it captures the spirit of your brand or service amazingly well, and nothing short of that – might gain you some fans. And the business that follows. The key, according to writer and guest WSJ mentor Brad Keywell, is to take an approach that’s so well-done and unique that the message is shared as much for its novelty and strength as it is for what it says about your product.

As Keywell writes,

The pervasiveness of social media, the fact that humanity will publish more words this year than in all of our collective history and the insatiable hunger for information has made the problem of ‘sticking out’ even stickier. Follow Bonnie Raitt’s advice: Give them something to talk about.

Of course, over-hyping for the sake of gaining attention is just another variation on Crying Wolf (see #5, above) – a tactic that, in these days of instant global alerts, could sink your marketing ship in less time than it took for the Blackhawks to steal the Stanley Cup series from the Bruins. (For those who object to the sport of ice hockey on moral grounds, and we know who you are, that would be 17 seconds to score the tying and winning goals just minutes before it was game, series – and season — over.)

Turning the tables

One thing more: It’s possible, as publicist Lonny Kocina suggests, to put the cart before the horse – using publicity for social media content, rather than the other way around. The trick? Get some publicity for your product or service, advises Kocina. Better yet, try and generate interest in an actual hard-news story (that’s positive, or largely so). Then post whatever it was that someone officially gushed about.

The possible payoff? “Social media is ‘word of mouth’ for the Internet age and word can spread quickly with one click of an interesting tidbit,” Kocina writes. “It takes only a second to make an impression. Like. Share. Buy.”

So, yeah, social media can sometimes get tiresome and what’s posted there often fails to send out any decent business-like vibes. But only if it’s used in ways that even some of your personal friends would frown upon. Use it wisely, use it well and the end results might end up adding more to the bottom line than anyone imagined.

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