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When it comes to social media, everyone has their ideas on how to do it properly. Most social media experts I know agree on a few things, but on the nitty-gritty details of running a social media campaign there is a lot of variation. Here’s one of the things that I see often suggested and just as often ignored.

Listen first.

So many small business owners take to Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn and jump in with a shout. They start promoting this and that about their business without really checking to see who is listening. A better way to get some mileage out of your social media marketing is to listen first, shout later.

Actually, instead of shouting, just whisper.

Let me clarify.

When I say listen first, what I mean is sign up for the service and make a few friends. You can interact with them, but don’t start any special promotions. Just spend your first few weeks listening. What are people talking about? What’s the tone? How often, and in what ways, do people interact on that particular service? What makes the various social media platforms different? Take note of that.

As you are listening, engage with people on the services. Interact with them. That’s how you make friends and build relationships. But hold off on the self-promotion until you’ve made some solid connections.

When the time is right, slowly add a few self-promotional tweets or messages. Don’t overdo it. Spend more time sharing useful information with your audience. Only promote the really good stuff you have. Spend the rest of your time listening.

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