The most popular question we are asked on the topic of social media is how to join the conversation. When joining social media (the third level of participation) conversation, an organization intentionally commits to developing relevant content published on a regular basis. Content and constancy -- the two essential keys to joining the social media conversation.

It's really no different than talking to an acquaintance. If you had nothing of importance to say, or only chose to converse every two or three months, the acquaintance is unlikely to become a friend.

And like each of us may have "sports buddies" or "card club friends," in social media your organization will only fill a very small "topical space." Acknowledge this, accept it, and fill your space with content relevant and meaningful to your audience(s).

The content you publish must focus on your position, category, and/or company. When your customers or prospects decide to let you into their world, don't disappoint them. They have done so either because of the content they see you have already published or out of brand affiliation. (The latter is rare -- you likely have to still come up with good content, so keep reading...)

Many times, what we consider common knowledge within our businesses is not so common. Don't hesitate to post links to articles on your industry and provide your perspective. Or comment on a trend or new technology within your industry. When you overlay your organization's position in the commentary, the content is uniquely yours. That raises its value. And a social media conversation is more likely to start.

As you publish content and the social media conversation begins, then follow the guidelines on monitoring and commenting from the last installment on planning social media.

Not every company should join the social media conversation. If you find it isn't working because you can't find a good content provider, or that content provider can't churn it out once every few days, get out quickly. Per the warning in the first installment, social media can ruin a company's brand reputation very quickly.

The last level of social media participation is hosting. Frankly, don't bother. If you have the notion that you need to build and host an online community, please contact me first. It may make sense, but only in very rare cases.

The next installment will be the last in this social media series. Check back next month as I discuss advertising as part of planning social media.

Mark Vandegrift's 5-Part Social Media Series:

    1. Making Sense Of Social Media Planning
    2. Uncovering the Social Media Landscape
    3. Planning Your Participation in Social Media
    4. Joining The Social Media Conversation
    5. When To Use Social Media Advertising