One of the great things about the clients I’ve been lucky enough to work with is how smart they are. Case in point: BC Hydro’s Deb LeRose, who – among many other things – helps the company’s many departments and business units understand social media.

She likes to start presentations off with a slide showing a free puppy and a baby. Both of them, she says, come without a price tag. So does a Twitter account, Facebook profile or blog… but don’t kid yourself. You’d better know what you’re getting into before you click on the “submit” button. (Or take hold of the leash. Or make a baby.)

She’s right. Price tag or no price tag, you’ll be paying: in time, attention and energy. (Mercifully, nobody’s come up with a social media presence that requires you to take it to the vet to get neutered.)

You’ll need to…

  • Plan before you launch: You need to know just what you’re hoping to accomplish. Just want to learn a little about YouTube? Hoping to create a new channel for customer service on Twitter? Whether your ambitions are modest or audacious, taking the time to clarify your goals and exactly how you plan to achieve them is critical to social media success.
  • Keep posting regularly: Status updates for Twitter, posts for your blog, photos, videos, notes or links for Facebook… it all adds up quickly.
  • Respond to comments: Social media is conversational, and you’ll want to stay engaged in the discussions you spark – both on your own presence and out in the larger web.
  • Tend to your community: As your online community grows, you’ll want to encourage participation, make introductions, extinguish flame wars and keep things moving productively.
  • Promote your presence: You don’t want to go to the effort of creating and maintaining a social media presence without having it count for something, right? So you’ll want to let the world know about it – which can involve everything from advertising to guest-blogging.
  • Monitor the social web: You need to know what’s being said about your organization and the issues that matter to you. That can be as simple as searches set up on a tool like Technorati or Google Blog Search, or as sophisticated as commercial tools.
  • Track metrics: Since you’re investing this much effort, you want to make sure it’s giving your organization some benefit. Actually measuring those results can become more or less automated, but analyzing them and deciding on actions to take: that requires time and energy.

Organizations that have had social media success will tell you it involved real effort, but yielded great results — just as dog owners and parents know it’s sometimes tough work but tremendously rewarding. You end up with someone who, yes, chews up your most prized possessions and covers you with slobber, but is also a loyal, loving friend. (And with children, they grow out of the chewing and slobbering phase. I’m told.)

So what if you don’t know whether you’re ready for the responsibilities of raising a child, owning a dog or tending a wiki? That’s next week’s post.