I am regularly asked by a wide range of practice professionals to help them develop a social media strategy.

Best practices dictate that I should start by determining what your objectives are in using social media. This can be tricky when you are new to something and not even fully aware of what is possible, let alone what are appropriate and measurable objectives for your situation.

Thus, I’ve adopted a pragmatic approach to social media: it’s a learning experience, much like most of life. The more you engage, the better your understanding will be of how you can effectively use these tools in your business. Keep it simple. Start with something, anything, and learn from your experience.

Notice, I use the word “engage” when I talk about social media because this isn’t something you can entirely delegate or outsource. Social media literacy and skills are rapidly becoming requirements of the contemporary business person. Make all the excuses you want and be dismissive about social media, but it’s not going away.

So, if you fancy yourself a competent business professional, it’s time to get with the social media program.

Here are the basic elements to a professional social media strategy that you can put in place for as little as 3 hours per week:

1. Start curating content related to your subject matter expertise and share it with friends, clients and professional colleagues via LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter or Facebook — in that order (or all of the above). Discovering and reading good online content in your area of expertise is probably something you’re already doing if you’re a professional, so you can leverage some of this time. Tools of the curation trade are easily available: Google Alerts, Google Reader, Twitter and Google+ for following influencers, etc. For more on curation, see “Curate Content to Promote your Brand”. Time allocation: plan for 4-6 hours per month for curating and sharing the best content you find.

2. Set up a blog based on either your name (eg. or your area of specialty (eg., WordPress is an amazing open-source platform you can use, but do hire a professional to design and implement it for you. Don’t worry if you already have a corporate website and don’t be misled into thinking you need to consolidate your blog and website. You don’t. There are a number of SEO and other advantages to maintaining your blog separately. What you should focus on is writing two short articles (say, around 500 words) per month in your area of expertise and stick with this schedule consistently. Time allocation: I’m a slow writer, so I’m going to estimate you need to dedicate about 4-6 hours per month to creating this content.

3. Start a new email list for your blog readers to sign up and receive updates. Don’t dump all your existing email contacts onto this list, but by all means offer your existing contacts an option to join your new list. Push out an email periodically (say, once a month at first) with links to the articles you’ve curated and the ones you’ve written in items 1 and 2 above. Time allocation: You can outsource the email list set-up, but dedicate an hour per month to helping choose the shares and personalizing the message.

Bonus idea: Write and self-publish a PDF white paper or e-book. Give it away away for free on your site in exchange for obtaining a name and email sign-up for your mailing list. In order to create real value, you need to create something that fills a gap in the information marketplace. If you have a unique specialty and are one of a handful of people who can connect the dots, share it in a white paper. In exchange for giving away some of your knowledge, you gain thought leadership. Time allocation: Work on this for an hour or two per month for the first 6-12 months. Get feedback from your peers and colleagues and focus on creating something of real quality.

By investing 12 hours per month of your time and some professional fees, you can get your social media strategy on the rails.

Be patient. You will be best served if you have a long term perspective on this investment. In other words, don’t expect to gain much — other than knowledge and experience — for at least a year. However, within two years, if you consistently stick to the plan, you will start to reap the benefits: being known online for your special expertise and quality thought-leadership.

And then the business will start finding you.

Jay Palter is a social media strategist and coach with two decades of experience in financial services, software development and marketing.
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