How can brands participate on social media without seeming self-promotional? (Creative commons licensed from Flickr user Todd Bates.)

On Small Business is introducing a new feature in which young entrepreneurs will answer common questions about small business owners’ social media needs. The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment and provides entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship and resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth.

Q: What’s the best way for a brand to participate in a conversation within a community on Facebook or Twitter without seeming self-promotional?

Eric Bahn, founder of Beat the GMAT:

Self-promotion is just plain tacky in the age of social media.  You just can’t tell people how awesome you are, you need to show them.  Thus, when participating in social media communities like Facebook, Twitter or anything else, your first goal should be to demonstrate that you are a credible expert in a field related to your company brand.  Upon establishing credibility in social media, your audience will then be ready to trust your brand/product, and you will make money.

So how do you go about establishing yourself as a credible expert?  That’s simple: all you have to do is provide really useful advice for free.

For example, let’s say you are an entrepreneur selling an amazing new stain removing solution for carpets.  For your Twitter profile, I would first pick a username that reflects your company name or Web site.  Then, fill out the ‘About’ section for your username with info about how passionate you are about carpet cleaning with a call to action (i.e. link) to your product/Web site.

After establishing your profile, scour Twitter for tweets where people complain about a huge stain in their carpet.  Reply to these people with some nice and cheap home remedies to clean the carpet.  Or reply with links to other sites that provide detailed articles on stain removal, mixing in some links to your own site’s blog articles (if you have some). 

Never tell the people you advise that they must buy your product to solve their problems.  Just establish yourself as the guy on Twitter who knows how to clean up ANY carpet stain.  You will gain credibility as well as a following, and people will check out your profile/Web site to learn more.

Establishing credibility takes time and hard work.  However, once you have it, you will enjoy the benefits of a great brand and great sales.  But remember, avoid the temptation to simply self promote because that’s the fastest way to destroy your credibility and company.

Stephanie Kaplan, co-founder and CEO of HerCampus:

Some of our most effective campaigns for clients — including LOFT, SELF magazine and The Body Shop — have relied heavily on social media to extend their reach and visibility.  The key is for a brand to partner with a trusted authority in the space (demographic) they are going after — in our case, we're the authority for college women- and to leverage that brand’s editorial voice and loyal readership to promote their own brand. 

  By only endorsing brands we genuinely believe in — whether that brand is paying us or not — we maintain that level of trust from our readers that makes these campaigns so effective for the brands we promote.  Sponsored content can be incredibly effective when it’s coming from the right source and is positioned in a way that resonates with its intended audience. 

Along these lines, brand ambassador sponsored content is an incredible tool — to hear a real person’s story about using a product or a brand and loving it is one of the most, if not the most, compelling ways out there to advertise.  Facebook and Twitter flash giveaways are additional means we have found effective for promoting different brands we work with.

 

Jake Kloberdanz, founder and CEO of ONEHOPEWine:

At ONEHOPE, we try to just have real conversations with our community.  We also don’t just participate with our fans by posting as our Facebook page, we communicate through our own personal profiles.  All 20+ people in our company personally comment and interact with our fans and community.  We find this to be really effective and it creates a real human identity alongside the identity of the brand.