Tune into Your Social Sphere

For entrepreneurs starting a new business, generating brand awareness and customer engagement is key to success. But with so many social networks and even more people contributing to the chatter, it can be difficult to sort through the noise and find your place in the conversation.

So how can you use social media effectively and efficiently to build your business on these channels? It all starts by listening to the conversation. By using the rights tools and tactics, you can easily increase your results in a minimal amount of time.

Why Tune in?

For starters, you must tune into the online conversations about your brand and industry. By listening to what your audience has to say, you tap into valuable market intelligence in a candid and unfiltered environment. Additionally, you can create an early warning system about negative sentiment concerning yourself or your competitors, putting you ahead of potential PR disasters.

You’ll also spot influential followers who evangelize your brand, giving you a chance to thank them and present them with special offers. As well as, reaching new customers looking for the product or services that you provide.

What to Listen For?

Your listening campaign starts with creating strategic searches to filter through the noise. By using a tool like HootSuite, you can monitor mentions of your brand(s), key executives’ names, and product names to gather opinions. In addition to, tracking general industry terms and even competitor’s keywords, to see how the market perceives your differences.

Be sure to catch all the mentions by including misspellings, and synonyms for the products or services you provide, as well as anything else directly related to your business.

Say Hello!

Once you’ve started monitoring these words, you’ll notice the same people popping up and frequently talking about your brand. From there, you can begin reaching out and engaging with these enthusiasts. Just remember, this is a conversation… and is enjoyable (mostly), as these people are interested and/or passionate about your business — just like you are.

So dive in and answer their questions, thank people for mentioning you, and correct any misconceptions you may see in the stream. Don’t pitch to them right away, once you establish a rapport by answering a question or saying “thanks”, then you can consider gently promoting services or products you offer. Remember to build trust, and respect their time, by providing suggestions, help and your gratitude. You also need to ensure it’s in-line with their interests. Just click their avatar, read their bio and social stream for a quick view into who they are.

Engage Locally

For small brick-and-mortar businesses, finding and connecting with a local audience is a great way to build a community around your business. Done correctly, you can attract new customers and valuable media attention.

What about the global Internet? How do you find your real-life neighbors? You could search through the multitude of messages and Tweets in hopes of finding someone local, but this can be very time consuming. Instead, try using geo-location in your searches. This technology is still emerging but as people become increasingly social, they’re also becoming more mobile.

With location-aware smart phones for search, savvy users are searching for  near-by businesses — from sushi restaurants, to friendly dentists. These hyper-local quests even turn into a game as people check-in to their favorite locations to compete against their friends for a “mayorship” to earn bragging rights or deals. You can tap into this valuable information by watching who’s checking-in to your shop and offering discounts, acknowledgements, and accolades.

Finding lots of folks checking in? Invite them all to come in for a Tweet-up — part open house, part focus group. By connecting with your online audience in real life, you create a culture around your brand which will result in more conversations, more intelligence, and ultimately more sales.

HootSuite’s energetic CEO, Ryan Holmes, founded Invoke Media, the agency that created the highly successful social media dashboard. He has been active in all aspects of HootSuite's operations, focusing on strategy, business, product development, as well as technical and social networking trends.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (Y.E.C.) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country's most promising young entrepreneurs. The Y.E.C promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business's development and growth.