The rip tide warnings have been posted.

From the beach, it looks pretty choppy out there.

Visitors are advised to “enter the water at their own risk.”

The social media ocean is vast and wide and can certainly swallow up a new visitor quickly.

Even though many people reading this are what would be considered “early adaptors” of social sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ and are power users of technology tools like video, mobile devices and analytic research systems, think back to when you first started. It was probably a tidal wave of bleeps, pings and “must see” websites that must have been a bit intimidating at first, no?

So here you are now, riding the wave of the social network evolution with confidence and consistency and there on the beach is a new youngster (or “oldster”) hoping to learn to catch a wave and join the party. They timidly approach you and ask for your advice on how or where they should start to “get” the best ways to get on board.

Before you overwhelm the novice social networking user with tips, tricks and tweeters to follow, suggest they slow down and actually do L.E.S.S.

L is for Listen

One of the best ways to get engaged in a social site like the “Big Four” – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ – is to not try and do everything at once. Assuming you have created an account and populated your profiles, find some people to connect with and just start listening.

You’ll quickly find out who speaks up a lot. You will learn who carries a strong voice and which subjects they preach and/or teach about. Some will have voices that clash with yours and others will seem to be saying exactly what you would say.

The more you listen, the more you will learn. Some people listen for weeks or months before they feel comfortable being a part of the conversation.  Once you have spent enough time actively listening to people and their conversations, you will feel ready to join the conversation.

E is for Engagement

When the Web first started it was a one way medium. Visitors went to websites and digested the information or message the website creators provided. Looking back now, it was really a one-way street and it was very difficult for the user (a.k.a the customer) to interact with the company. We often went to websites to seek out the phone number so we could call and get help or answers.

Now with social media, it’s much less of a monologue and more of a dialogue. Communication is the basis for the majority of the biggest, most popular sites and if there is relevant, timely content being shared by the users, it sparks engagement.

As the sender of information you’re hoping to engage with the receivers of your message, developing relationships, generating discussions, garnering feedback and, for a probable desired result, generating a lead that can be converted into a new client or sale.

If you are the “listener” on social media sites, engaging in the discussion (commonly referred to as the “thread”) allows you to build new relationships or further strengthen existing friendships. Your answers or input may solve some problems and at the same time allow viewers and other “thread participants” to learn about your personality and professional acumen and may begin to increase your “on-line trust” as a valuable participant in the conversation. The more you engage, the better chances you have of increasing your following and influence on others.

S is for Share

Not many people like someone who takes but never gives. Don’t let this be you in the social network environments. The beauty of sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ is the possibility of learning new and cool things that could help you or someone you know and the opportunity for you to share things as well.

You could share tools, tips or techniques that have worked for you in your business. You may share systems or sites that have served you successfully that others may not know about. Many people enjoy sharing inspirational or motivational content like videos, blog posts or photos. Sharing doesn’t have to be limited to business. You could share feedback on travel, products or services. Sites like Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp! Are built around others sharing their input to help others make decisions.

Remember the days of “Show and Tell” in your elementary days? Wasn’t it neat to find out what you had in common with other kids from your class when they shared their GI Joe collection or perhaps their photos from the family vacation to Cape Cod? Sharing becomes a great way for you to identify other people who are similar to you in interests, beliefs or goals. That can create some powerful relationships that go far beyond the “virtual walls” of the on-line world as we know them.

S is for Support

When you have built relationships with people it just seems natural that you would want to strengthen them in any way you can. Being a supportive friend, co-worker or family member is a very desirable trait. Social networking has many ways for you to be supportive.

Following people, “liking” their posts and pages, +1’ing their comments and sharing their stuff are all great ways to support people. Did you like what someone you follow on Twitter said today? If so, ReTweet their message to your followers. Maybe you enjoyed a video posted on-line? You could always write a blog post about it and why you like it and what others can or should learn from it. Add your comments to people’s new blog posts or even subscribe to blogs that interest you or may help you become better. I have yet to meet a user of social networking that didn’t enjoy seeing their name, message or materials shared, spotlighted or spoken about.

Showing your support doesn’t mean that you always have to agree with the post, concept or issue. Many times people are using the medium of social networking to hear all sides of the story. If you have a thought on the subject, put in your two cents and debate with manners and modesty.

Surf’s Up!

Don’t over think your strategy in the sea of social networks out there. Paddle out into the conversation and start acting like a professional surfer. Relax, chill out and lose the stress. Log in and start doing L.E.S.S .

Come on in. The water’s fine.


Photo from Flickr courtesy of LipBomb under a Creative Commons license

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