Editor's Note: This is commentary based on an article entitled "Social Studies" that appeared in our Jan./Feb. issue. It covered social media and lumberyards.

To paraphrase W. Clement Stone, social media is hard by the yard, but a cinch by the inch. Opportunities abound in this vast new frontier, so it's worth the effort.

However, it's easy to understand why many professionals in our industry are overwhelmed with the scope and intricacies of social media. There are now 600 million active Facebook users. If Facebook was a country it would rank 3rd in the world, behind China and India. More than 3 million businesses have Facebook fan pages. Today, people will tweet 140 million times on Twitter. An amazing 20% of these tweets will mention a brand, company or product.

In just one month, people will watch 60 billion videos on YouTube alone. The business social network LinkedIn now counts 80 million users, growing by 1 million new users each month. In a recent survey, 67% of marketers indicate they will use LinkedIn even more in 2011.

It also makes sense as to why more and more pro-focused building material dealers use social media to grow their business. According to another recent survey, 67% of Americans use social media, 43% using it daily. And if you were born after 1980, it's a way of life, with 83% using social media more than once a day.

I agree with Herrman Lumber's Dustin Burke. Twitter enables you to build brand awareness and gain tons of followers. These followers can ultimately become customers or refer you to customers.

Long Fence and Home in Maryland uses social media to speak directly to contractors and homeowners. The company provides information on home improvement materials and industry knowledge. Customers and prospects have the opportunity to provide feedback on the company's products and services. It's an open, free-flowing communication network.

Here are a couple of essential steps to social media plan success. First, assign an account manager who's responsible for developing your company social media content. Next, prepare a timeline so that you post and tweet on a regular basis. And make sure you use a consistent voice across all your networks (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc).

It's also a good idea to keep an eye on your company's online reputation. You can use free services like Google alerts, Co-Tweet, Yelp, and Social Mention, as well as paid searches such as Radian6, and Hubspot.

We've seen some companies stand on the social media sidelines because they thought they needed to have a presence on every network or not at all. Remember, social media is a cinch by the inch. The key is to get started even if it's just with Facebook or Twitter, and then build your social media presence as you go along.

It's equally important to remember that social media really is a two way conversation. Give it your best strategic thinking. Develop interesting content. And be responsive to your fans and followers. When it's done right, social media can help new customers find you, build links to your website, raise search engine ranking and serve as a very cost efficient vehicle to speak directly to customers and prospects.

Below are three steps to social media success.

  • Use strong, strategic thinking.
  • Develop interesting content and post regularly.
  • Be responsive to fans and followers.

Walt Denny is president of Walt Denny Inc., a full service public relations, advertising and marketing firm. The agency specializes in the home products arena, internet marketing and social media. He can be reached at [email protected]