I know that some of you are sick of hearing about social media. And I get it. It has become so central to Internet marketing that it’s probably an even bigger subject than search engine optimisation now.

But what I really want to get across to you all is that social media marketing isn’t difficult. Or dull. Or expensive. And it works. It really is important, no matter what your business is, if you want to succeed online.
The nice thing about social networking is that it’s a great leveller. You don’t have to be able to schmooze people at parties. You don’t have to be good-looking or naturally charismatic or be wearing expensive clothes. You can social network in your pyjamas, in bed.

You can reinvent yourself – not by being fake but by emphasising your strong points. Be the best version of yourself you can be.

With that in mind, I thought we should revisit the core steps you need to take to make it work for you.
1. Pick your subject

This is the first hurdle, and the place where many people fall. You need something to talk about. And no, that doesn’t mean yourself. Think about the individuals you find most interesting, the people you follow on Twitter, or whose newspaper columns you read. They have a topic. You need one too.

It’s fine to stray outside your niche occasionally, but generally your friends and audience will want to know what to expect from you.

2. Create a plan

It’s important to start off with a plan – a marketing plan, if you will. Nobody ever won a war by walking blindly into battle. You need to have an idea of what you are going to do and when.

It’s fine to start off by exploring and experimenting, but you should even plan this out. Set yourself targets: I want to get 500 new followers by July, for example.

It doesn’t matter if you miss your targets – but having them will make you strive to hit them.

3. Make sure your products are easy to find and buy

If you are selling on eBay or Amazon, they do a lot of the hard work for you. But, although you are not going to shout at people to ‘buy my stuff’, you still need to make sure the people you come into contact with know that you have something to sell. When and if they like you, they will go and check it out.

So make sure you mention it on your Twitter biography and add a link to your blog or site. Put it in your Facebook bio too. And make sure you have some product pages on your blog, which are linked to prominently.

4. Communicate!

The worst kind of tweeters and Facebook users are a people who just talk about themselves – the people who don’t join in the conversation but just stand there and yell ‘Me me me me me’. Those are the kind of people who everyone avoids at parties.

The popular people get involved, make a contribution. And that contribution does not include the words ‘buy my stuff’ – unless it’s really relevant, like if people are talking about the problem of removing egg stains from trousers and you happen to have written a guide about that very subject.

Even then, those people will be far more likely to check out your egg-stain removal guide if they have conversed with you before about non-egg-stain-related topics.

When people talk to you on Twitter, you should reply. If they recommend you to others, thank them. If they say something interesting, reply to them, as long as you have something relevant, interesting or funny (if funny is appropriate) to say.

5. Share and share alike

A lot of the time you will struggle for things to say, either on your blog or social networks. We can’t all be ideas machines every day. In fact, some of us struggle to be ideas machines full stop. This is where content curation comes in.

The great thing about the Internet is that there are millions – billions – of people out there, creating stuff. Great stuff. And that will include people in your niche, assuming you haven’t chosen the most obscure topic in the world: the architecture of public toilets built 1908–09 in Wolverhampton. Even then, there’s probably still someone else out there who’s writing about it.

So it is a valid – indeed important – job to sift, sort and share this content. You should look through all the blogs, sites, Twitter feeds, etc, of people who are in your space, and share that content with your followers.

You will then start to build a reputation as a great source of interesting content: someone who sifts out the crap and saves their followers precious time. You will even begin to be seen as an expert.

You should adopt a 70/30 rule. 70% of the time, link to other people’s content. 30% of the time, be original. And you should comment on the things you link to. You could even make money from your third party links by using a service like refer.ly.

6. Be humble

There is a lot of debate about whether one should retweet praise. This is where someone else says something nice about you and you share that praise with your followers and friends.

Some people think this is the equivalent to shouting ‘Mr Smith just said I was his favourite and the best at maths!’ in the playground and that you should refrain from such vulgar, show-offy behaviour.

But it’s very hard to resist, and I think it’s OK. The way I look at it, you are simply showing delight that someone said something nice. Just don’t do it all the time.

In a similar vein you have the humblebrag. This is where people show off about how great they are while pretending to be generous to others: ‘Congrats to @joebloggs for making his first million on Amazon. I remember when I made my first 2 million pounds!’

7. Join a community

Whatever niche you are in, there will be other people in the same boat as you – Internet marketers, cat lovers, eBayers, teapot collectors, egg-stain-removal experts…

Just do a Google search for your area of expertise and you’re bound to find other people like you. Do the same on Facebook and ask to join the group.

As well as being a source of support and advice, your fellows are also potential customers, and they know potential customers. Just remember the golden rules – join in, don’t just sell, be nice.

One small word of warning – although most of the people out there are as nice as you, if you are successful you may provoke jealousy. There’s not much you can do about this but be aware that it might happen and hope that karma gets them in the end.

8. Be a guest star

This is one of the most effective uses of social networking. Most of your fellow public toilet experts or teapot collectors will have their own blog and their own fans and followers.

You want to reach those fans because if they like so-and-so, if so-and-so is similar to you, they might like what you have to sell too. So ask people if you can write a guest post on their blog, or perhaps do a Q&A.

Bloggers are always looking for content, and getting someone else to write the words is much easier than doing it yourself. By guest-starring on their blog you will be getting in front of their readers, thus increasing your exposure.

It’s a great idea to do it the other way round too. Get other interesting people with something relevant to say to write something for you. This will provide content for your blog and give you a reason to send out tweets, Facebook posts, etc. And your guest will almost certainly link to and promote their guest post, thereby sending you more traffic.

As new readers visit your blog, make sure they see ads for your product or, better still, try to get them on your email list or to follow you on Twitter, or like your Facebook page. That way you have multiple opportunities to network with them.

So, as you can see, social networking for professional reasons is lot more complicated than posting pictures of cute cats on Facebook and tweeting about what you’re having for tea. You have to be prepared to put some time into it.

Which leads me to my final point: it is all too easy to waste time with all this stuff. Time that could be better spent on creating great products or working on your web content. Or relaxing with your family. So don’t spend all your time on Twitter. It’s too easy to get addicted.

Make sure you track the effects of your efforts. You do need to give it some time, but if it seems that what you’re doing is not having a positive effect: maybe it’s time to rethink your strategy or focus on something else before coming back to it with renewed energy and a new strategy.
I do hope that helps some of you and can’t wait to hear how your renewed social efforts work out.