5 Tips on Social Media for Social Entrepreneurs

Getting frustrated trying to find the ROI for social media at your enterprise? You're not alone. Yet another poll came out this week showing that more enterprises than ever are scrambling to find ways to use Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, Ning to boost their brands -- and that most still aren't quite sure how -- or even whether -- these social media tools will help add to the bottom line.

Before you start looking for a spike in revenue, first make sure you have a social media strategy in place and that it can scale -- and with the right expectations. Here are five tips for getting started:

1. Understand that it's not about the money, alone. Social media are about relationships -- first. Sure, money is good. Money is needed. But using social media to engage with people online is just as important as you start to scale your social enterprise. Joe Rospars, President Obama's former director of social media and a founding partner of Blue State Digital, said earlier this year: "The biggest lesson nonprofits and social enterprises can draw from Barack Obama's ability to raise more than $100 million online in a faltering economy is that fundraising flows from engagement. It's no longer enough to simply believe in the cause. Now it is critical for people to participate in a cause -- and feel like they've had some input -- before they decide to help it pay for stuff."

If you can win a customer's trust and favor, their influence can help you win sales and financial support from others. Social capital trumps money at key phases in your company's growth if you can win a stakeholder's ongoing influence online.

2. Add a social media strategy to your marketing plan. Sound obvious? One mistake some enterprises make is they treat Facebook and Twitter like separate projects, as if they're experimental platforms that live on another planet. Don't make that mistake. Social media are critical to all of your company's operations and need to be integrated into them. Don't forget to use social networks, Twitter, and video to promote your company's blog, its products, and your thought leadership within your communities and beyond them. Use Twitter for instant communication and news-sharing; use LinkedIn for business networking, use Facebook to build deeper relationships; open up a private Ning to better seed communities among your customers and supporters. And use video -- lots of it -- to show people who you are and what your company stands for, and how it has had impact. Add value to the stories you tell about your products and your cause, and be strategic about the conversations you join online. Worse than being outside the conversational reach of your customers or supporters is being in a conversation with them that doesn't add value.

3. Make a long-term commitment. Integrating social media into your business strategy doesn't mean giving your new company a Facebook page and a Twitter stream and calling it a day. Know your business goals and choose which types of social media tools are most likely to help you boost your reach the most over time. Get a budget for your social media efforts and hire a community manager as an early-stage employee to manage your organization's communities and keep them energized, informed and engaged. A good community manager can initiate new ways to harvest customer participation in your cause, and keep your blog and Twitter feeds timely and relevant as your company scales. Over time, he or she also can help you develop aggressive strategies to extend your company's customer reach and thought leadership to offline events. The more focused and strategic your social media team, the more valued your brand among customers and stakeholders.

4. Embrace transparency. Encourage the people in your company to use social media to amplify their good work and to generate buzz for your cause or social enterprise. Leverage the social networks of your employees to scale buzz for your new intiatives. Create or organize events on Eventful or MeetUp focused on meeting stakeholders and thought leaders face-to-face and listen to their input in ongoing conversations online and off.  Transparency isn't a bad thing. What you know won't kill you. It's the stuff you don't know about how your supporters and customers consider you that can limit your impact the most. Create the kind of internal culture that rewards open communication and collaboration. Work with customers and stakeholders as partners to perfect your company's products and services. Encourage everyone on your teams to keep their ears to the ground and share their talents and expertise in the conversations around them and online so your company's values are clear and continuously demonstrable.

5. Create social media guidelines. Build consensus around what constitutes best practices and use a team approach to govern the use of social media at your company or cause. For a sense of how other groups do it, check out:  http://socialmediagovernance.com/policies.php.

Did we miss anything? I know we did: this list is just for starters.

But now it's your turn. What have you learned so far that's worth sharing about using social media to boost your cause or your bottom line?  Share your experiences, and we'll keep adding to this list over time.