Part of the beauty of social media is that you can build a free (or inexpensive) media platform to accompany your business. Small places like AJ Bombers in Milwaukee and Jaguar Data in in Fort Myers can build the communications platform they want to represent their business. But to simply sign up for various accounts and use them willy nilly will get you pretty bad results. Here are some ways to build a useful media platform.
Start with a Home Base
Where do you want all this attention to go in the end? Here's a hint: you're only renting your space on Facebook or LinkedIn. If you don't build a site of your own, then you're missing an opportunity to build a sustainable business media platform. Remember, Facebook owns all the marketing data for your site and they don't share. Any site can change the terms of service and knock you offline. You can't customize in those places, at least not enough to suit your every need. So, start by building your own site.
I'm using WordPress to build almost all my business sites these days. Even if I don't want to use it as a blog, the content management system software is flexible, has tens of thousands of developers adding to the software, and has many flexible add-ons and plugins that allow for even more flexible site design. There's also built-in search engine optimization (SEO) that you can't mimic without spending plenty of money.
Consider Your Media Channels
My current media channels are: a blog, email marketing, video, Twitter and LinkedIn (to a lesser degree) for my own business. I use these all in sync to my business goals. For instance, on Twitter, I listen and interact with others, but I also drive significant amounts of traffic to my home base by coming up with enticing questions and then providing a link back to my site. With video, I record and post it on YouTube (you can use other sites like vim, viddler, blip.tv) and then I embed it on my blog. I try to drive more traffic to my blog than to anywhere else, because again, I don't own YouTube.
With Facebook, I'm not building much of a presence there. Instead, I'm using tools on my site to encourage people to share into Facebook. I got that from watching how Zappos put a Facebook "Like" button on every item in their catalog. That means that if I'm looking for a new messenger bag, I can "Like" it, which shares it to my friends on Facebook, and thus markets Zappos to them. See how that's much more valuable than building a secondary presence on FB? (The exception to this rule is if you're managing an online community there, and you want to use it for your heavy customer outreach area.)
Every little tool that comes along gets you in the mood to try it out and see if it adds to your presence. What I see, however, is a way to divide your audience. If you get some of them into your new Paper.li product and you get some of them into your new upstream channel, and you get some of them into your blog, you've given lots of people lots of ways to interact, but you've lost concentration of bodies. That means you have to spread out your calls to action. It means you have to break your audiences into more buckets. It's just herding cats.
It's wonderful to explore new things. It's not useful to spread your small business marketing efforts so thin that you can't maintain them. Pick a few and focus your power there. Oh, and it'll be different per project. You might find that Yelp is where you have to spend your time. You might live in the Amazon.com comments and reviews section. But that's the stuff that works better when backed up with a nice home base somewhere, so don't forget that step.
When YOU are the Media
The old way to work with public relations and publicity people was to push them to get you into news articles in the daily paper, the local TV, the radio, and if you were really pushing the envelope, you'd push to get into the Wall Street Journal and some meaty monthly magazines. That's the old way. While those things are nice, people are reporting more sustainable and useful results from balancing the occasional hit in traditional media with a sustained presence on these new media channels.
Also, you don't have to wait to get a story. You make the media. Google finds your stories just as well as it finds a newspaper's story. And all the effort you put into growing the value of your website, your home base, comes back in the end. I have better circulation that lots of local newspapers at my site, but that took me years of work. Once you get that, why would you worry about pushing your PR person to get you ink in the locals. Make sense?
Go forth. Build useful media platforms. Use them to write and shoot video and make photos and whatever about your clients, about your prospects, about what they want and need. And see what comes of it all. I've got nothing but success to report over here.
Chris Brogan is the New York Times bestselling author of Social Media 101, and president of New Marketing Labs. He blogs at chrisbrogan.com.