“LOL, just DM me on Twitter. I’ll download the GPS app on the iPhone and I’ll see you there!”

What on earth is that all about? Ask a teenager as they may be able to tell you. When I started working in marketing over 20 years ago there was no Internet, Email, or even mobile phones to speak of. I’m a dinosaur according to my kids.

Twenty years ago if you wanted to issue a press release, you had to print out the number of copies you wanted to send, pay to have photographs duplicated, print out labels for envelopes, stick the labels on the envelopes, put the press releases and the photographs in the envelopes, frank and put the envelopes in a post box and then if you were lucky it might get printed in a few weeks, or months, depending on magazine print deadlines. Now you still “post” press releases, but on Internet sites, and by sending them instantly to an infinite list of contacts at the press of a computer key. Love it or loathe it most people are continually online with smartphones nowadays.

One of the most significant developments recently in communication is called “Social Media”. These are Internet-based communication systems like Facebook and Twitter. In a business context, Facebook mainly tends to be companies targeting consumers, but Twitter is fast becoming a vital business-to-business communication method. Two years ago there were 1 million registered users, now there are approximately 250 million. Twitter is, in effect, a news dissemination mechanism in a short message format where you can link to stories on the Internet and exchange information with like-minded people. The immediacy and reach of Twitter is incredible, and it is changing the way people receive their news. For example, the recent Brit Awards had a lower than expected TV viewing rating, largely because the results had been “tweeted” before the programme aired a couple of hours later. The recent civil unrest in Egypt was brought to the outside world via Twitter.

One thing about Social Media is that you can spend an awful lot of time on it, and it is not always clear what results you are getting from this investment of your time. You need to focus about what you want to achieve from it, who you want to target, and the key messages that you want to promote. If you use a marketing agency to work with you on social media it should work with you on measurables and deliverables. You and your team can spend a long time on twitter and LinkedIn or Facebook but how do you target your key customers? How do you engage them in conversation? And how do you then convert this to sales? How do you monitor what is being said about you? And how do you measure your success?

There are now several free analytical tools which can measure the effectiveness of Social Media campaigns. Here are some tips for beginners trying to get to grips with Social Media. Try to keep your tweets relevant/interesting/entertaining. Keep a regular flow of information. Try to engage people and make your tweets/messages interesting by asking people’s opinions and getting them to interact. Don’t be overly “salesy” and add some relevant, interesting personal touches from time to time, but don’t tell the world what you had for breakfast, even Stephen Fry’s followers tire of this. Don’t use offensive language: if you’re not sure, think how you would feel if the whole world read your message. If you are ok with it and you are sure nobody will feel insulted, it should be ok.

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