David Cooperstein [Posted by David Cooperstein]

Follow me @minicooper

During what I call the “black and white” days of the internet in 1995, when email was a green screen “app”, I presented a direct mail CEO with a business plan for direct marketing online. When he voiced his disbelief in the power of digital marketing, I walked him back to his office, installed the Mosaic browser, and stood behind him while he used the mouse to navigate a few sites I suggested. In about 10 minutes, he went into a trance of amazement at the data, the content and the interactivity. He went on to refocus the company on interactive media.

Last week, I was at dinner with a client and its board of directors. For them, the topic was eCommerce and social media. But like in 1995, the question for these folks was “So how do I learn how to use these tools?”Like my earlier experience, they understood the concept of social media and online selling, but had concerns for the privacy of their station in life and the daunting task of how to make sense of the frothy new communications mode that has invaded their children’s’ and grandchildren’s lives. For them, and for others who don’t want to ask “how do I get started” with social media, here are 5 things you can do to get familiar with the power of the medium: 

  1. Gain customer intelligence about your brand or product.  Search for your brand on Twitter. Go to search.twitter.com and put in the brand your represent or the name of a brand you identify with. Read what people have to say about your brand or product. Search on your competitors too. Find out where you both stand in the Groundswell of commentary without having to sign up for anything.
  2. Learn more about colleagues and job candidates. Search for a friend, colleague, job candidate or lost love on Google, and click on the LinkedIn link. You’ll find that LinkedIn just shows what someone has done, not what quirky comments they make about sports, politics or their last brilliant idea.
  3. Test the power of scalable intimacy with friends and brands. Use your real name on Facebook, set up privacy to keep you secure, then follow step 2. You will find a door open to your nostalgic history of high school friends and college romances. And you’ll find that you still have some things in common. Search for a brand, politician, or relative on Facebook and read their feed, look at their photos, and read what they are reading. This is how people “fan” things, voting with a click of their mouse that they like something. Similar to an email database, it allows the marketer to remind consumers who have "opted-in" of new products, new shows, or updates on social activities of their own.
  4. Test the power of socializing content. Go to Wall Street Journal’s web site, and link your Facebook account to your WSJ profile. Or click on the StumbleUpon or Digg links next to an interesting article. From a New York Times article, you click on the "Share" link to connect to a series of social tools. Your connections will start reading what you read, and likely start a dialog with you on the subject.
  5. Rate and review products you sell or you have used. Read product reviews for your products or the new Dan Brown book you read on Amazon or a hotel you stayed in on TripAdvisor. Put in your own feedback. Even something as simple as product reviews or hotel recommendations are part of the social web. Wherever you see voting, recommendations or comments, you are participating in social media.

As you make your way through these steps, search for me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/minicooper, or @minicooper in "Twexicon"). Or ask me in plain old email at dcooperstein-at-forrester.com.