Flummoxed by Facebook?

Perplexed by Pinterest? As part of the small-business success issue from On Small Business, Ryan Paugh, the founder and former community director for Brazen Careerist, answered questions Tuesday on social media strategy in a live chat with readers.

An edited transcript follows:

A little about myself...

I was one of the first Gen Y career bloggers to come on the scene right when Gen Y was entering the workforce. Through building a strong network on my blog I was able to launch a company called Brazen Careerist, which is now a place for ambitious young professionals to learn, connect and grow.

I spend most of my time today building a new community called the Young Entrepreneur Council, which is a nonprofit providing entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship and resources.

Q. Social media advertising

Is there a way to quantify the amount of good an average social media campaign does for a company? I see that almost every company has a Facebook and Twitter account, but I can’t imagine many of them being all that successful. Am I wrong?

Ryan Paugh:

You’re certainly not wrong. Most entrepreneurs mess up social media (in fact Guy Kawasaki has a good article about this).

Most important to realize is that just because a company is on social media doesn’t mean they have a campaign or a strategy. Most skip this step and dive right in, which is toxic. Strategy is important. Ask yourself...

1) What are your main goals?

2) Where is my audience interacting online?

3) What do they want to talk about?

4) How will I measure success?

There are plenty of tools available to measure your success with social media. I use a combination of Hootsuite and Google analytics to measure how well our social media team does for YEC campaigns.

Q. Ahead of the curve vs. established sites

Is it a greater advantage to be on the cutting edge with new sites and services that may not be as populated yet (but which may never take off), or to focus on more established sites with a higher number of users? If we have limited time resources to devote to social media, what do you believe a small business’s focus should be?

A. Ryan Paugh:

Boutique social networks, Web sites and blogs are sometimes the best places to engage with your target audience. The big ones (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) are oversaturated with marketers and salesmen.

Consider strategic partnerships with content producers, bloggers and niche social networks. To find them, do good research up front to find them or pay a strategist to find them for you.

Q. Pinterest

There has been much talk of Pinterest lately. There have been claims that its terms make posting content a copyright infringement, yet that it’s a great new way for organizations to share content. My question is how can organizations best leverage Pinterest to engage without giving Pinterest license over the content?

A. Ryan Paugh:

The same could be said for re-posting/sharing content anywhere on the Web. I just don’t buy that Pinterest is any different.

Focus on whether or not Pinterest is a good tool for your organization. Right now I feel like 90 percent of businesses should still just be watching what other brands are doing, learning from them and then deciding if it’s worth the time investment.

Q. Twitter

What’s your thought on generic Twitter hash tags? I see a lot of really generic words used as hash tags in tweets by people who are trying to promote something. Do hashtags like #food, #journalism, #fashion or #film really help people reach a wide audience?

A. Ryan Paugh:

For events, campaigns and newsworthy content, hash tags are extremely useful for expanding reach. For example, we just launched our #FixYoungAmerica campaign and went as far to include a hash tag in the actual branding. The hash tag allows Twitter power-users to browse all posts that mention our campaign.

Q. Promoting a new blog

What social media advice do you have for someone who just launched a niche blog? What is the best way to get the word out about your blog when you’re starting from scratch?

A. Ryan Paugh:

Find other bloggers that you like and are in your same niche. Read their content and leave comments. Even go as far as to send them Twitter messages and e-mails to show your support.

Blogging is a very community-oriented sport, and you get more when you give more. Spend more time promoting other people’s stuff than you do promoting your own.

The blogosphere is all about the love :)

Q. Facebook Timeline for business

How do you think businesses are going to react to the mandated change of Facebook pages on March 30th? I’ve been testing it on my test page and have found its handling of images and tabs to be extremely poor for business use. Do you have any tips for making timeline not be just a profile for your business?

A. Ryan Paugh:

I’m certainly going to miss the old version of pages. What they were really good for is e-mail lead gen as you could create a custom page where visitors would always land, present a unique offering and hopefully collect some new data on a potential customer. With timeline, content is truly king.

You’re just going to have to get creative and evolve with the platform. I actually disagree that it handles images poorly. Check out what the New York Times has done with their page. They basically turned it into a historical look at the company from its beginnings up until today.

I think timeline is going to be all about telling a better story about your organization and less about promotional opportunities and lead gen... we’ll see.

Q: Reaching an older audience

I’ve been trying to help my father’s small business use social media to get a boost, but many of his customers haven’t started using anything but the most standard social media services yet. Do you have any suggestions or tips on easing them into it? What sites would you suggest for an older audience?

A. Ryan Paugh:

To find out what “older” people are talking about online check out Eons.com , which is a social networking platform for Baby Boomers. Through networks like these you’ll be able to see what your father’s customers are talking about and doing online.

Think beyond the big guys (Facebook, Twitter) and look for niche communities where the social networking is less intense and daunting.

Q: Risks of Using Social Media Poorly

I work for a small organization where the higher-ups are not so tech-literate. In the past, they’ve decided that we should create accounts on various social networking sites for the campaigns and causes we manage in order to appear up-to-date and current. The problem: They don’t really have the time or staff resources to build an audience and keep these sites fresh with content. Is there a risk in using social media if it’s not done well? For example, is it worse for an organization to have a never-updated Facebook page with few followers than to have no Facebook page at all?

A. Ryan Paugh:

Yeah, this is a stupid decision that a lot of businesses make. Your online presence is only as good as the strategy you put behind it. If you have dead channels or channels with content that’s irrelevant to your audience, it’s going to make your brand look worse than if you had no social media presence at all.

So, yes. There is a risk in doing social media the wrong may. It’s like putting out a commercial for a product that doesn’t do a good job at connecting with the target audience. There has to be strategy or it’s not worth it.

Q: Targeting local audiences

How important is it to get a large following for a small business? Since we’re obviously “small,” we don’t need a wide, global audience at this point. Are there ways to develop a loyal following and target local audiences who would use our services?

A. Ryan Paugh:

I am a big fan of Facebook private groups for building small, loyal communities. There’s too much transparency in the online world so customers appreciate when they’re getting something special that only a small group of people can get.

For Young Entrepreneur Council, we have a private group for all of our most important members to interact, share trade secrets, special discounts and more. This keeps our community highly engaged and loyal.

Q: Social media strategy

What are some ways to tie a modern social media marketing campaign (Twitter, Facebook, etc...) to more traditional target audiences such as Federal Government and Department of Defense customers?

A. Ryan Paugh:

The real decision-makers are probably not the ones who are executing on their social strategies. When trying to reach a higher up, consider something like LinkedIn, which operates more like a Rolodex on steroids to find the people that you’re looking for.

Q: Video the way to go?

My university employer wants regular Facebook posts for our department site, and it is hard some weeks to get to our weekly goal of three to five posts per week. My boss thinks it would be a good idea to post videos, but most young people I talk to don’t want to watch videos (at least not school-related videos). What are your views on written postings vs. videos? Thanks!

A. Ryan Paugh:

How about starting some actual conversations instead? I get more followers on my pages when I focus less on videos/articles and more on talking to people. Ask students questions that matter to them, build relationships and trust.

Hey guys, I have to head out now, but thanks for all of the wonderful questions. This was a lot of fun.

Best of luck with all of your social media strategies!

**This live chat took place on Tuesday, March 6. Read a full transcript here.**