Part of my job is helping organizations, small businesses and non-profits, understand all this “social media stuff” and why it might be important to their business and projects.  Every time I teach a class, I think about ways to tighten up the message and bring the most important points forward.  I listen to shows like The BeanCast, Marketing Over Coffee, and other podcasts that feature some of the best and smartest folks around in this field, folks with traditional PR and Marketing backgrounds as well as the Social Media Gurus.  And in the end, it comes down to these few points:

1. Social Media is a communications platform, just like any other.  However, if you look at it more like an opportunity to grow your contacts and rolodex- if you build relationships and permissions with your “audience” in advance of the need, when you need to drive sales, awareness, or other messages out to a wider marketplace, your trusted friends and followers will be more likely to help you amplify your message and get heard over the din.

2.  People like you to keep it simple and keep it human.  The more layers of needless complexity, the more you waste their time before getting to the point, the less obvious your call to action- ie. answering the question of “Why did you want my attention in the first place?”- the less likely you are to see the results that you are looking for.

3.  Social is no longer a fad or the place where only the cool kids hang out.  It’s part of the new communications landscape, and you would do well to figure out the basics on each platform, whether it’s relevant to you, and start to experiment with it here and there until you get comfortable and well versed.  Even if your current perfect demographic audience is not there now, it might be soon.  Be prepared.

4.  Remember your website is your home base and where you have most control.  Your social media “calls” should refer people back to your home base.  That said, make sure your home base is user friendly and easy to navigate.  There’s almost no excuse for not spending the time and money to make your customer/vistor experience a good one where you control everything.  User interface and design (and mobile friendly design) are mission critical.  If you’re going to invest money, this should be priority one.

5. You need to look at the whole picture as well as the day to day.  Because you can measure things on the web, you can have data up the proverbial ying yang.  Looking at trends in data, trends in performance over time, will give you better insight into the big picture than any one isolated piece of data will do by itself.  Look at the numbers, but be more cognizant of trends than any one blip.

6. Social and the web takes a commitment.  It’s not going to necessarily change your organization over night.  People ask “What’s the bare minimum I need to do to be successful?”  That’s like asking, “What’s the bare minimum I need to do to graduate/lose weight/make a million dollars?”  If the goal is something you want, you have to be willing to invest the time (and the money your time costs, if not real dollars outlaid) to be successful.As Yoda said, “Do, or do not. There is not try.”  Well, yes and no.  You have to try, but you need to commit, with goals in mind, and work towards those goals as seriously as any other.  Don’t expect passivity to work.  It doesn’t work in any other area of business or life, an it doesn’t work here, either.

7. Know Yourself.  Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses.  Learn how to articulate these out loud to others.  One of the exercises I’m giving to classes right now is to work on an elevator pitch about themselves and their organization.  A small personal sound bite, if you will, that will make people interested and want to ask the next question.  If you don’t think you are interesting, or what you’re doing is important, why will anyone else?  Moreover, why are you doing it, then?  I have yet to see anyone do an outstanding job at something they don’t really care about.  Know why you matter and communicate that clearly to others.

8. There is no perfect formula or recipe for fame and fortune.  Sure, there are tons of books out there from famous people, trying to dissect what they’ve done, and what’s worked for them.  You and I both know our mileage will vary, because we have different networks, skill sets, education, situations and more.  The recipe, numbers, guidelines, etc. are all just suggestions for your to try out, but you have to tinker with them to make them work for you.  Anyone who promises you instant success by posting a certain specific number of times, at certain times of the day, etc. are basing this information off of large trends which may or may not be remotely relevant to you and your audience.  And if anyone promises to make you a viral (insert noun here), they are lying.   Not even all cat and baby videos are viral.  Stop chasing instant success, and do the hard and consistant work that will get you where you want to go.

9.  If it was easy, we’d all be rich.  Even the folks we hold up as idols in social media got there by hard work.  Writing. Blogging. Speaking at conferences.  Travelling. Promoting themselves, and the stuff they find interesting and of value to others.  Doing the day to day grind, organizing their own conferences and shows- everything necessary to build a strong and reliable reputation and maintain it over time.  None of these folks are NBA star or Donald Trump rich, either.  The guys coding the platforms, willing to do the hard work every day- we see that over time, some of them hit magic, but many, many more than that don’t.  Hard work is always necessary.  Anyone promising you an instant win lottery ticket also has prime transportation real estate over the river into Manhattan to sell you.  Or he’s a Nigerian Prince.  Either way, you won’t be happy with the results.

10. Trust that being yourself works.  One of the hardest things to do is to find your own voice.  Speaking from the heart.  Saying what matters most.  But I’ve found, time and again, when I am my most honest, open, and yes, even vulnerable, that resonates with other people.  It matters.  It connects.  When I say what I believe rather than what people want to hear, they know I care.  And even if they don’t like what I have to say or buy what I may be selling, I can always know that I did my best and I was true to myself.  At the end of the day, I can live with that.  It may be “go big or go home”, but I’ll always know I went all in, and I can live with the results, knowing I didn’t pull any punches.

Some of these things are as much life lessons as social media lessons.  In the end, the only thing that matters is being human, honest, and doing things you feel proud of, regardless of their outcome.  The hidden secret, of course, is the more you invest of yourself into your work, the more returns you get as well.  It’s just a matter of being willing to be vulnerable and to take risks.  If you’re willing to fail, then there’s really nothing holding you back from taking a leap and trying new things.  The results will always be worth the leap.