‘The goal is not to be good at social media. The goal is to be good at business because of social media.’

By Giovanna Fabianno

After stints in political consulting, waste management and communications for the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, Jay Baer decided to play his hand at working in a then-little-understood sphere: the World Wide Web.

Jay Baer, President, Convince & Convert

That was 1994, and Baer became vice president of marketing for an Internet company without ever having been on the Internet.

In the 20 years since, he’s run three Internet companies, become a New York Times bestselling author, is a sought-after marketing speaker, and still manages to spend time with his wife and two children.

Using those two decades of experience, he started Convince & Convert, a social media consultancy that advises 75 to 100 businesses per year.

He recently shared some advice on what companies need to know about social media.

Why is it important for companies to maintain a strong social media presence?

The term “social media” carries a lot of baggage. You instantly think Twitter, Facebook, cat videos — there’s a lot more to it. Let’s instead think about things social media makes possible: reaching new audiences, interacting with customers, providing speedier service … it’s a means to an end. People absolutely have to remember that the goal is not to be good at social media. The goal is to be good at business because of social media. You can’t pay your employees with Twitter followers.

Should all companies have a social media presence or are there some fields that might not benefit?

Sometimes I hear from companies that their customers aren’t into social media, so why should they invest in it? Eighty percent of Americans with an Internet connection use social media. Some of your customers are using social media. One of the biggest mistake in terms of execution is when companies do this: ‘Facebook page: check, Twitter account: check, LinkedIn: check.’

They put very little effort into any one channel. ‘We got us one of those Facebook pages so we’re good to go.’ You’re always better off doing fewer things well than doing everything mediocre.

So where should companies start?

The first piece is to not really worry about the tools. What are we trying to accomplish here?

There are three potential objectives:

  1. Awareness: Make more people aware of our products and services.
  2. Sales: Make people want to purchase our products and services.
  3. Loyalty: Interact with our current customers and use social media as a customer service channel.

The first step is figuring out which objective you want to emphasize. There are lots of ways to measure customer loyalty other than how many clicks you get. Just remember, big picture strategy first and tools second.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see companies making when it comes to social media?

Many companies treat it [a status update] as the world’s shortest press release. There’s a lot of competition for attention in social media; millions and millions of tweets are sent per hour. What is going to break through that kind of hyper-competitive scenario is something inherently useful or entertaining. Most companies think about social as another way to talk about themselves, but instead, they should be thinking, ‘How do we show our humanity? How can we help?’

What’s a good example of a company that does it right?

Classic example: Hilton Hotels has a program on Twitter, @HiltonSuggests. They’ve got team members located in a bunch of hotels in the U.S. and if they find an opportunity to help somebody, they just jump into the conversation. A few years ago, a guy mentioned he was in a particular city —it may have been Memphis — and was new to town. He went on Twitter and said, ‘Hey, I’m new here, my dog is sick, what do I do?’ Hilton jumped in and told him the name and address of a great vet. They did that knowing that he was not staying at a Hilton hotel. It’s about people, not about logos.

When we talk about social media, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn typically come up. Is one more important, depending on your brand?

Companies usually ask me to pick one and I say, ‘I’ll give you two.’ You have to have a LinkedIn company page, so you can use it for human resources if nothing else. The reason Facebook is a social media must-do is that 60 percent of Americans are on Facebook and 18 percent are on Twitter.

You have to look at Twitter differently. Twitter is the new telephone— it’s still a must-do in many ways, but you have to help the customer on the ground of his or her choosing, not the ground of yours.

Even if you start small and conservatively, every company should be thinking about how do we make connections using technology. Maybe it’s not Twitter or Facebook. Maybe we’re going to start a blog or create YouTube videos to help sell our products.

Should companies invest in social media managers or have several employees handling social?

The first way companies generally have handled this is to take my pain away with an individual person. You might have a social media manager or director, to set the strategy. Eventually, we’re going to get to the place where social media is a skill, not a job. Social media is and should be part of everybody’s job. In the 1950s, and you can see this if you watch ‘Mad Men,’ there used to be a whole room of women typing. But then we realized everyone should be typing, and typing went from a job to a skill. You still have managers and people calling the shots, but the function is going to get backed into a lot of people’s day to day jobs. I think this will happen to everyone eventually.

A lot of large companies are implementing complex software to help interact with customers and join the conversation. Software gets you in the game, but a person still has to call the plays. Ultimately, it’s about the humans and what they do once they find the opportunity to engage with a customer. It’s much more about the wizard than it is about the wand.

(Jay Baer will speak at Xerox’s simple@work conference. He is one of several world-renowned speakers and experts who will help you find ways to turn your business processes into real advantages. simple@work is scheduled for March 18 and 19 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. To register, follow this link, fill in your information, and click “Submit.”)

(This article was first published on Real Business, a website from Xerox that provides ideas and information for decision makers in business and government.)