This post originally appeared in the Gen-i newsletter FWD_VIEW

So…. you may be wondering what this social media malarkey is all about. You might have even been told by your CEO “We need to be in social media – make it happen” and be scratching your head about what to do next. Here are 5 easy steps to get you started on your social media path.

1. What’s the problem again? Jumping into social media just because there is always a story about it on Mashable or TechCrunch is probably not a very good reason to do it. Work out what problem you are trying to solve. Here are some reasons for having a social media presence:
a. To acquire new customers or increase traffic to your website
b. To get realtime feedback or insights from your customers,
c. Participate in the conversations that are already going on about you
d. Offer customer service via a channel that your customers already use
e. Generating sales leads (or even sales)
f. Be seen as a thought leader in your industry

2. Listen. There are plenty of free tools like Google Alerts, Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Twitter search and SocialMention which you can use to search on key words for your business, industry or products. Hear what people are saying. Work out what you would like to say back to them. Look at your competitors to see what they are doing.

3. Resourcing. Who’s going to do all this Facebooking, tweeting and so on? Remember that the technology is free, but you need an actual person to post content, respond to customers, manage your social media accounts and be the voice of your brand. Choose someone who is passionate about your brand, not someone who is addicted to Facebook. Also consider which hours your community uses social media – this might be very early in the morning or later in the evening – social media is not normal business hours!

4. Risk. Nervous about the risk of being in social media? Ask yourself what the risk is of not being in social media – can you sustain the potential brand damage when there may be conversations happening at the worlds biggest BBQ and you can’t participate? Or miss out on the opportunity for word of mouth referrals? Other mitigants of risk include staff social media policies, a moderation flowchart outlining what you will and won’t respond to (including trolls), and good training for your social media team.

5. Measurement – how will you know if it is working? What does success look like to your business? Consider measuring the number of Facebook interactions (likes/comments), shares and Twitter mentions, retweets. If you have the resource, then tracking whether your sentiment is positive, negative or neutral can be useful – particularly over time. Also tools like Klout, Peerindex and others can help track your influence, reach and audience over time.

These 5 steps will help you shape up your social media approach so you are better prepared for stepping into the social sphere.