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As you begin to make resolutions for 2011, please don’t add a line item to your list about “building relationships online” or “engaging with customers through social media” without putting some real thought into how you will do it, and most importantly how you will sustain it.

But even before doing that, think about why you want to do this, what you’d like to accomplish and how you will know if you’re doing a good job. In other words, make it make sense for you, and give yourself some goals.

I continue to see so many abandoned efforts that turn out to be a monumental waste of time in the end because there was so much energy and enthusiasm at the onset that waned quickly because the results weren’t instant.

And many times, there were no real expectations for results, at least not justified expectations rooted in reality. Just pie-in-the-sky numbers and stats created on the fly, or a series of guesses based on what someone “thinks” is acceptable.  Again, reality not included.

Any outreach or engagement efforts you start online should be for the long haul. And because overnight success stories are few and far  between, you need a plan.

So allow me to make this recommendation for your checklist:

“Develop a short and long-term plan for connecting with customers online. Define my goals and determine who I want to engage. Commit to spending some time out of each day to work toward this goal, and if I don’t have time to do it right now, revisit in 30-days.”

Yes, that was a bit long, but the idea is simple. Commit, or leave it alone until you can.

I am noticing a pattern among those who consider themselves “social media savvy,” “early-adopters” and “jedi ninjas” or whatever the new term of the week may happen to be.

On one hand, they say there are no rules with social media. They call it the wild, wild, west and offer advice that pretty much says “go out there, try some stuff and see if it sticks.” I like that, and I think it’s important to convey a message of experimentation.

But then they go off on a tangent about what people shouldn’t do, act as if their way for managing Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts and fan pages, blogs and a slew of other platforms is the only way and anyone doing it differently is breaking the code.

So, there are no rules, but there is a code? WTH?

I am the first person to silently grumble about those who use their Facebook accounts as an outlet for their twitter streams and not much else, but who am I to tell them that it isn’t effective? I can simply hide them from my feed or un-friend them, right?

No, I don’t want to join a Mafia family and I don’t choose to learn which car best describes me or which game from the 80’s I am still able to play. But that’s me.  Some people enjoy that and it’s their prerogative.  And they could be reaching thier goals with those tactics.

I do wholeheartedly believe that communities develop a culture somewhat inorganically and that newcomers who don’t understand the culture can have a hard time, but that is pretty much how it works in branded communities. You can’t expect 300 million users to subscribe to the same culture.

I was a panelist at Meet the New Media, at NC State last week when a member of the audience expressed concern over stalkers following her. One of the panelists gave her a very detailed method of determining whether or not someone is worth following.

It included a series of events and involved a formula of comparing the number of followers against the number of people the suspected stalker is following, dividing that by pi, and multiplying it by Avogadro’s Number.  The results would then determine whether or not this person would show up on her doorstep wielding a knife in the wee hours of the night.

Okay, I’m being facetious and I hope my fellow panelist sees the humor if he is indeed reading this post.

But, I felt compelled to grab the mic after him and my advice to her was to not worry about it or over-think it.  I told her to look at their profile and if there is something that seems suspect, block them, especially the porn-types. But if the point is to grow your community, broaden your reach and learn from the masses, you can’t sweat the stalkers, and you certainly can’t worry about every new follower.

Because we all know that if a stalker wants you, they’ll find you. They can just head on over to LinkedIn, find out where you work, and get you in the parking lot. With all the information we are readily providing across social media, stalkers no longer need mad investigative skills to be effective.

So, if you’ve told anyone that they are failing at social media, find a new message. Failure is subjective and it really has no place in the Wild, Wild West. Enlighten them, don’t put them down. Offer new suggestions. And remember: Failing to see the point is not an indication of failure. Perhaps they’ve never been told about the benefits. So tell them.

After all, you are a jedi-ninja, so do your thing and welcome them to the wild, wild west.

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.

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