By Jackie Sauter

So you’ve (begrudgingly or not) determined that you need to be involved in social media. Maybe you’ve even created a Twitter or Facebook account, and you’re testing the waters.

What do you do next?

In my opinion, there are three main business uses for social media.

What’s the word?

People are talking about you and your competitors – and if you’re not there, you can’t talk up your company or set the record straight. It’s vital to monitor what’s being said about your brand online.

There are lots of ways to easily get the scoop.

You can set up a Google Alert for your company’s name and specify for Google to return results from blogs, videos, groups or news. This is an automated process that will come straight to your inbox or your RSS reader.

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Use to find tweets about your organization. If you want to get fancy, you can set up an RSS feed subscription to tweets with your company’s name.

It sounds complicated, but it’s not – after you type in your query on (example: “Dolan Media”), your results will have an RSS feed symbol on the upper right of the page with an option to “Feed this query.”

Observe a network and find out who is the “pack leader.” Then approach him or her casually; don’t be pushy. If you win over a community’s lead influencer, the rest will follow.

And having a vocal advocate for your product can be priceless.

If you’re a high-roller or you simply don’t have time to do it yourself, I’ve heard great things about Radian 6. The company’s tagline is “Who’s Talking About Your Brand?” They will aggregate online conversations, sift through the noise and provide you with only pertinent information – for a fee.

Three letters: CRM

I recently attended a social media workshop hosted by the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. Panelist Greg Cangialosi, president and CEO of Baltimore-based Blue Sky Factory, advocated the use of Twitter for customer relationship management. His company even has a separate Twitter account, @BSFSupport, specifically to answer questions for clients.

Social media is a great, cost-effective way to manage your customer relationships. It’s instantaneous, personal and easily accessible. Best of all, tweets are indexed by search engines, allowing other users who Google a similar question to turn up your answer in their results.

Market research

This is where I’ve seen social media’s biggest benefit.

Bottom line, you need to understand how (and why) people buy your product. Social media networks are a gift in this regard: people willingly reveal their age, race, educational background, interests and industries.

An IT leader in my company likes to joke that if the FBI wanted to create a database of everyone in the United States, it couldn’t have done a better job than Facebook.

Here at The Daily Record, our reporters send out a tweet about a story they’re working on and ask for potential sources to contact them. When I’m preparing to launch a new product – or redesign an existing one – I ask for suggestions from our social networks.

Here are some ideas you can use to make use of the online audience.

Gather Twitter followers who are representative of your target audience and ask them what they want from you. Follow them to see how they conduct their day-to-day business. Create a sponsored poll on Facebook and find out how much your targeted users are willing to pay for your service or how frequently they use it. Find a niche forum with a focus that appeals to your business’ target audience. If you work for a mobile advertising agency, would be an ideal choice. Ask questions, listen to other people’s answers. Find out what drives the consumer.

The most important thing to remember is to know your audience; it might not be worth your time to focus on a huge network such as Facebook. Instead, try locating the community you’re after on more specialized sites.

Let’s say you’re an up-and-coming author trying to market your new book. users rate what they’ve read, share what they’re currently reading and recommend books to others. It is an existing social network composed entirely of people who like to read – a perfect match. Score!

Remember, this isn’t the place for a “sell, sell, sell” mentality – online, the consumers lead the buying process. You just need to be there to make your case, and you can leverage technology to help.

If you don’t take advantage of these communities, you’re missing a huge opportunity.

Jackie Sauter is Web editor of The Daily Record in Baltimore, Md. She can be reached at, or follow her on Twitter @jackiesauter and @mddailyrecord.