Rules can be helpful, but they can also close your mind to possibilities and immobilize you. When it comes to social media, the first rule you’re likely to be told is this:

“Never start a social media initiative until you know your objectives.”

Not only do I believe that it is possible to break this rule (and still be successful), but in two situations, you are better off if you ignore the rule.  The first situation is when you are so stymied with how to get started and fearful of getting it wrong, that you end up sitting on the sidelines. The second is if you have tried using social media but are disappointed in the results because you thought you’d get thousands of Twitter followers in short order or have your video go viral, ignore the rule and start over without expectations.

Recognizing an opportunity does not mean that you can predict how it will play out

At Lion Brand Yarn Company, when we first started getting into social media, we had some ideas about what we might achieve, but our involvement was sparked mostly by the realization that something significant was happening in the world of marketing and we wanted to be part of it.  In my last post, “What to Expect From Your Corporate Blog,”  I wrote about the fact that we outlined our objectives, but truth be told, we only had some vague ideas about what would happen –which is why I shared the details of what we discovered only after we launched our blog.

We started with little more than the sense that listening to and talking to customers in ways that drew back the curtain on who we were, and allowed for real conversations with far flung customers would be a good thing.  We liked the possibility of creating relationships directly with customers. Back then, that was pretty much it for our objectives.

We worked with an agency that helped us get our blog and podcast set up and give us some guidance but then they pushed our boat into the water and we sailed off on our own.

“Done is better than perfect”

I recently toured the Facebook offices and saw that saying on their walls.  It reflects their philosophy of constantly moving ahead to try out ideas. Facebook has over 2,500 employees and yet they are a nimble company. If a programming team believes they have a credible idea for improving the site, they code it. No committees, no position papers, they just write code and they ship.  As a result, sometimes Facebook presents users with confusing and frustrating new features, yet they still manage to eke out a user base.

It helps to have a corporate culture that allows experimentation and we have that at Lion Brand, along with a CEO who is willing to listen to his Marketing VP pitch an idea and then trust his gut that it is worth a shot.  It helps that the out-of-pocket costs were low and when everyone pitches in in the beginning, you can get started without extra staff.

Rather than asking yourself, “what are we going to get out of this?” proceed with the following question in your minds as you create content and interact with readers: “How can we be helpful to our customers?”

If you are a nimble business or an agency with a client who has not been willing to take the leap  into social media,  go ahead and break the rule.  Don’t ask what you’re going to get out of your social media initiative because every business must have some presence in the social media arena.  Just go forward and create content that will be helpful to your customers  on YouTube, a blog, Facebook or Twitter.

Two years ago when we set up a Facebook page, we paid an agency to write up a 10 page paper for us about how a brand should create a page and give us some ideas about what type of content we might provide, along with some ideas for promoting it.  It was not an expensive proposition.  Today we have over nearly 175,000 likes.

Instead of focusing on what’s in it for you, focus on how to behave.

We were guided by these words, “be generous, be honest, and be open.”  Next, we let our customers know what we were doing and made it easy for them to connect with us.   We mentioned our social media presence on our website, in our newsletter and in our catalog.  We did that for months and what we found was that we had built an audience and they were telling us things about themselves.  They liked the links to certain videos, they preferred the blog posts about a particular topic or they commented on a particular type of Facebook post many times more than average.  Then, we just gave them more of what they wanted.

When you behave in these ways, your audience consists of people who believe in you, come to you for information, guidance, ideas, and assistance.  Note the words, people who come to you. That’s because you earned their attention. It is the attention of people who you want to serve that is of value.  It’s the most valuable commodity there is.

Next, evaluate what came of your social media efforts; how they supported, fed from and amplified other marketing efforts.

When we looked back and asked ourselves what worked and what didn’t work, we realized that we made the right decision.  The key was the attitude and the approach we took: to behave as a helpful, trustworthy company. There is a great deal written about social media marketing, but the fact is that when you get involved, you are going to find that things move quickly and there is plenty of uncharted territory.  You are not going to be able follow someone else’s rules. Your business is unique and your customers are human beings whose behavior is not always predictable.

Yes, you will need to justify the time and money you spend on your social media marketing efforts but you don’t need to pretend that you have it all figured out before you start. Planning is good, but making the effort with the right intentions and the right frame of mind is better.

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About Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.

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