You are constantly being followed by a multitude of ‘Twitter paparazzi’, your ‘Facebook friends’ are numerous; strangers want to establish ‘LinkedIn connections’ with you and your online journal (blog) is read religiously by individuals. Who are you?

You are social media’s rock star! But what is social media and why is it so popular?

According to the social media website Wikipedia, it is defined as a ‘media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques’. Brian Solis, author of the book, Engage!, states that ‘social media describes the online tools that people use to share content, profiles, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives and media itself, thus facilitating conversations and interaction online between groups of people’.

In his Harvard Business Review article, What’s your personal social media strategy? (November 2010), Soumitra Dutta states, “Today’s leaders must embrace social media for three reasons. First, they provide a low cost platform on which to build your personal brand… second; they allow you to engage rapidly and simultaneously with peers, employees, customers, and the broader public. Third, they give you an opportunity to learn from instant information and unvarnished feedback.”

However, there are people who still see social media as a complete waste of people's time. Some organisations have blocked access to social networking sites at work hoping that this will keep their employees focused on their respective jobs.

However, despite this restriction the disengaged employee would continue to do something other than work. So do you blame social media, the disengaged employee or the organisation for the decrease in productivity at work?

As you make your first ‘move’ in an attempt to get social with social media, keep in mind the following for a long-term fruitful relationship with your new social partner.

Begin with a purpose in mind

Before you dive right in to this relationship with social media you may want to ask yourself what is it that you hope to achieve through social networking. You need to clearly state your purpose whether it is for personal or professional reasons before embarking on the social media program. As Yogi Berra eloquently says, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.” This is why individuals without purpose and a clear direction end up lost, squandering away their valuable time.

Court the right attention

Participate only in the relevant communities and where you feel your presence is beneficial and compulsory. Do not just participate anywhere and everywhere. Unsurprisingly, organisations prefer LinkedIn primarily to recruit prospective employees while Facebook seems to be a favourite for interacting with family and friends. Therefore, success in social media is not based on how many people got your message but how many thought it was remarkable enough to be shared with their friends.

Influence others to take action

Do not speak to audiences through canned messages. Learn to add value and influence others through each engagement.

For instance, before you update your status on Facebook, you are asked, ‘What’s on your mind?’ If your status update is ‘Sipping coffee at a café’, then let me tell you that this is redundant not to mention absurd.

However, if you seem to be doing this during work hours or during sick leave then it is interesting and more so if your immediate manager is your Facebook friend. But how does one influence others through social media? Enter Egyptian-born Wael Ghonim, a senior marketing executive at Google, whose Facebook page sparked the January 2011 uprising in Egypt causing Hosni Mubarak to step down as President after having served three decades in power. Newsweek calls Wael Ghonim the ‘Facebook freedom fighter’ (February 2011).

Listen to your audience

It is important that you listen attentively to your audience. In the case of an organisation, the audience is its customers.

So organisations may want to listen to their customers both criticise and praise its products. This constant feedback helps them improve. Dell, an American IT company, launched its blog Direct2Dell, to engage its customers through communication and repair its dented reputation due to people criticising its products and services across the blogosphere.

The audience can also be employees of the organisation who just want to be heard. As an individual, you may find your audience silent at times. This happens when you fail to receive feedback either on your status updates in Facebook or on your personal blog. In this case, you may want to assess your contributions towards social media and change your strategy altogether. Silence in itself conveys a message, so listen carefully!

The writer is an HR professional.