The best plan is to ease your way into social networking over a period of six full months. Sure, six months in social media is the equivalent of six years in the conventional media universe but you don't want to make the critical miscalculation of expecting the social network participants to accommodate you rather than the other way around.
Social networking has become the buzzword of the decade and not a day goes by without hundreds or thousands more businesses jumping into the social networking deep end. Just like you wouldn't want to promote the mail room clerk to CEO overnight, you certainly don't want to launch a full-fledged multi-platform social media brand presence in one fell swoop.
Month 1 & 2 - Start Off By Just Lurking
Before taking the plunge into the depths of the social media ocean, you should spend some time just lurking in the shallows. Listen to what the chatter is saying about your brand as well as your competitors but resist the temptation to jump in if someone is praising or blasting your brand.
You don't have a presence yet, so the best thing to do is to keep the communication one way incoming at this point. Check out all of the different platforms and implement the various free tools which allow you to track the mentions in the socialverse of your brand and its activities.
Month 3 & 4 - Get A Feel For What Works Best For Your Brand
Dip your toe into one platform alone at first. If you're going to experiment, then Facebook and Twitter are emphatically not the places to make your noobie mistakes. Going with a smaller social network can get your marketing people acclimatized to what social media is all about and if you tread lightly you won't make any craters in the social landscape that you're going to have to implement a costly and regrettable crisis management plan to fill in later on.
At this point you generally won't have much of a social media budget as your presence is strictly limited, but avoid falling into the "traditional old media" trap of thinking you can scale your social media impact by simply throwing more money at it. Some gargantuan multi-national corporations spend millions on their social network presence and are often outmaneuvered by kitchen table operators who have an innate comprehension of social media dynamics.
Month 5 & 6 - Take On The Big Guns
Once you have amply chased the bugs out you're now ready to graduate to the major leagues. Leverage everything you've learned in the first four months and apply it to launch a Facebook and Twitter campaign that not only shows off your brand to its best advantage, but also encourages your customers to fully interact with your social media staff broadly across topics.
This is the time when you must mature your tracking and leveraging of your social media metrics. It's not sufficient to just look at your follower count and consider it a victory, it is necessary to be able to accurately determine what the bottom line effects on your entire business are, and how every change you implement will cause that measurement to drift into the positive or negative.
Month 7 Onwards " Integration & Expansion
This is the time when you are maturing your presence and integrating social media right across your entire business. By now you will be monitoring your brand efforts through sophisticated metrics all the way up to Social CRM, and will be starting to fine tune each new strategy for maximum relevance and effect. These are the golden days where you will be reaching critical mass not just in the sheer number of followers but primarily in the number of engaged individuals who are vividly participating in your brand efforts.
This six month phased-in process may not have the advantage of having your business become a social media superstar in a week, but it will also save you the risk of becoming a pariah just about as fast!