When people first begin to consider using social networking and social media sites, one of the early concerns is how much time it’s going to take. Another early concern is not knowing which networking or media site to use or how to use it.

These two things are related because if you don’t use the "right" social site then it will probably take you a lot longer to achieve your marketing goals.

This column is about picking the "right" social site. To get there, however, let’s start with a little bit about what social sites are and what they’re all about.

Social objects

More than a few years back, the marketer Hugh MacLeod came up with a concept called the social object. At the time, social sites were just beginning to be noticed and used by marketers.

The idea behind social objects is this: the social activity on a site (commenting, friending, liking, recommending, etc.) tends to be focused on a particular thing.

On LinkedIn, much of the social activity is focused on a user’s career or work history. Users spend much of their time on the site either reviewing or updating their own work history or communicating (aka being social) with others about work histories.

Another example might be Flickr, a social photography site. People post and comment on photographs at Flickr, so photographs are the social object.

Here’s a list of social sites with their most prominent social object:

  • Flickr: photographs.
  • LinkedIn: work history.
  • Foursquare: current location.
  • Plancast: future location.
  • Twitter: pithy thoughts.
  • Your blog: blog posts.
  • Facebook: personal history.
  • Vimeo/YouTube: video.

To use social sites effectively, you’ll want to be comfortable sharing and commenting and communicating about or with the social objects of the social site. Which I suppose is just a fancy way of saying that if you don’t like taking photos, then Flickr isn’t the "right" social site for you.

And no matter how much you hear about how Facebook is going to revolutionize the universe, if you aren’t comfortable presenting some degree of your personal history, Facebook is going to be an uphill battle for you.

Don’t forget the small local sites

A friend recently asked me what I thought people needed to hear the most when it came to social networking stuff for real estate. My response was that while many real estate professionals work hard with the "big three" of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the real estate social marketer might be better served by ferreting out the myriad smaller, geographically focused sites in their market area.

Sometimes these are just popular blogs about the area or region. Sometimes these are local review sites hosted by alternative newsweeklies or even daily papers.

The reason I think these are important is that they are usually more tightly related to the local market that real estate works in. Obviously Facebook and the others can be focused in based on geography.

However, given the tendency of beginning marketers to focus just on their message’s ability to reach earholes ("I have 300 fans so I must be important!" or "20,000 people follow me on Twitter so I must be important!"), I think it’s better to be active on a social site that has a higher concentration of potential customers.

If you are starting out with social sites or if you’ve been messing with this stuff for awhile but just don’t feel like you’re getting it, try to figure out the social object of those sites you’re focusing on.

Do you honestly enjoy working with that object? If the answer is no, then bring your energies to a different site.

Also, don’t forget to add a dollop of local and niche social sites to your mix. There are smaller audiences, yes, but they may be more concentrated with the kinds of people you can do business with.

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