In 2000, more than 20 years ago, David Weinberger published his highly influential book The Cluetrain Manifesto. Interestingly, despite the passage of time, the book’s main premises have not dated. If anything, they have become more relevant. The book highlights the importance of conversations and connections in business. If you only take one thing away from it, it should be the message that markets are conversations.

These conversations are too important to delegate to customer service or communications teams. Instead, social media means that everyone within a company can and should be a part of the conversation with customers. However, it is important to give experts and professionals the tools and skills to ensure that their conversations are effective. We believe that there are six aspects to that.

Create the right profile

The first step is to recognise that people like to talk to people, and know who they are talking to. Start by setting out your stall. In social media, this means creating a meaningful profile. This should include the topics that you think about and your personal skills. It is also a good idea to include something about your non-work interests. This makes a profile more interesting, but could also serve to create some common ground with your customers. What is absolutely not relevant is your company’s products. Have a look at these successful profiles for some ideas.

Start listening

Do not be tempted to launch straight into broadcasting information on social media. Instead, start to find out what conversations are happening, by listening. Your first step is to build up the list of people you follow. Look for your competitors and peers, and their customers, as well as your own customers. The next step is to start monitoring. The good news is that you don’t need to do it all manually. In fact, automating your listening using alerts will ensure that you don’t miss any information. Subscribe to blogs in your field of interest, Google Alerts for specific search terms, and use feed services such as RSS, Feedly or Newsify to tailor your feeds.

Engage with your audience and your peers

Once you are thoroughly up to speed on the conversations going on, you can start to join in. Remember that a conversation that consists of mutual monologues is boring. Instead, join a conversation by starting to interact with the authors of interesting articles, tweets or posts. Comments are an important part of any conversation on social media, and it is good to contribute to ongoing conversations. Use ‘retweet’ to share information and posts that interest you, adding a brief comment about why, or ‘like’ posts to show your interest. 

Develop your own voice

By commenting and joining conversations, you will establish yourself as a presence. The next step is to start to share original content: to find your own voice. When you write, make sure that you develop a good story drawing on your expertise and experience, and your views of recent events. Consider the needs and interests of your target audience, and then address them. You may have lots to say, but try to focus on just three key points: research suggests that we retain things better when they are given to us in threes. You could try using the Message Triangle as a way to structure your article, with a central hypothesis or objective, and three key points. It is also worth using the principles of ‘sticky’ ideas to strengthen your message. End with a call to action, which should fit your article in both tone and emotion.

Market yourself

The best contribution in the world is no good if nobody reads it. You need to distribute your content to get your message heard. In particular, you should promote your opinion actively in appropriate ways on multiple social media channels, seeking comments, responses and suggestions. If you have published a blog, share it on LinkedIn and Twitter. You can automate this using scheduling services for Twitter. You can also ask colleagues to look, comment, and share, or tag people to ask for their views.

Review and reflect

The final step in the cycle is to review and reflect on your activity. This is partly a matter of reflective practice—thinking about what went well and badly, and what you could change for the future. However, it is also important to measure the impact of your activity in hard numbers: shares, comments, other interactions, and more importantly, conversations started.