We had the pleasure of having lunch recently with Will Corcoran at Enterprise Ireland, a government-funded incubator that brings Irish entrepreneurs to the U.S. to build their businesses. EI asked us to write a series of blog entries designed to give their incubator companies some practical PR tips. You can read our first entry here: http://americas.enterprise-ireland.com/blog/6socialmediatip/

Here’s the entry, in its original form:

Six Social Media Tips for Startups
By Donna Michaels, President of the Loughlin/Michaels Group

If you’re reading this article on social media, chances are your startup is dabbling in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. If you’re missing one or two (or, gasp! All four) we encourage you to sign up today and start reaping the benefits of social media.

Maybe you’re not getting the results you want from social media, or you’ve tried it and walked away confused. The following six tips are intended to help you put some new life into your campaign, by thinking about social media in a more nuanced way. As always, I’m eager to hear your thoughts on social media and public relations. E-mail me at donna@lmgpr.com.

Tip #1: It’s OK to be Switzerland
Social media is all about quality, not quantity. Unless you’re running a big consumer brand like Coca-Cola (154,000 followers on Twitter) or you’re Lady Gaga (7 million followers on Twitter), you should stop obsessing about how many fans you have online. Instead, focus on pulling in the right fans, and nurturing the relationship you have with that group. As we all know in business, quality engagement with the 100 people most critical to your success is more valuable than a thousand conversations with people who can’t help you achieve your goals. We encourage our clients to list the 100 most important people to their business, and begin engaging with those people through social media.

Similarly, emphasize quality over quantity in what you write, and how much you write. If you’re posting a dozen tweets a day, you’re probably annoying your fan base.

Tip #2: Know your lingo
On Twitter, you should know the definitions of tweet, follower/followee, the care and feeding of the @ sign, direct messages, retweets, hashtags and trending. If these words sound like a foreign language, Twitter has a handy guide here: http://business.twitter.com/twitter101/learning. Facebook doesn’t have the lingo, but it does have a lot of advanced tools businesses should consider adopting. These include photo galleries, hosted video, blog entries, group discussions and more.

Tip #3: Stop shouting at the people who love you
The difference between good social media and great social media is engagement. Ask yourself, am I starting interesting conversations online? Is my writing provocative? Or does it seem like I’m shouting into the abyss? On Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, your goal should be to spark conversations with the people who can help you move your startup forward. So, stop shouting announcements at your fans.

We like to think of social media like a big mixer. Smart entrepreneurs track down the investor they need to talk to, or the reporter who covers their space, and tries to spark a one-on-one conversation with that person. Dumb entrepreneurs stand in the middle of the room and stare blankly at the ceiling, shouting out news to whoever’s walking by.

Tip #4: Know your audience
We run social media campaigns for a whole range of clients – everything from a network optimization startup to a Latin American-based social gaming platform. Your messages, goals and language should be tailored to your audience. If you’re launching a new online game, for example, you might focus your social media campaign on building a massive consumer audience, and offering incentives to get people to try out your game. Your tone and focus will be light and casual. That’s quite different than if you’re a financial software startup trying to close business with executives working at multinational banks.

When you’re planning your campaign you want to ask yourself, what does my fan base want to read about? Are they interested in industry news, or are they hungry for product updates? This is a good segue into…

Tip #5: Nobody cares about your sandwich
…unless you’re running a sandwich shop. It’s easy to get off track with social media. Stay focused on your customers, your goals and your message. Don’t waste digital ink spamming your fan base with stuff they don’t care about.

Tip #6: Be more social
As humans, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen to what your fans are saying, think about it and start a conversation. Retweet their news, help them achieve their goals and thank them when they help you out. You never know; the person you help online today could be the person who introduces you to your biggest customer tomorrow.

In closing…
Social media won’t solve all your problems, but it will certainly solve some of them. Every business, no matter its size, wants to better connect with customers, improve engagement with their brand and ultimately perform better in the market. Social media connects you with those customers on a very personal level, helping you convert your biggest fans into your biggest evangelists.

Good luck!