"Social media is about enabling conversation among your audience or market," write coauthors Lon Safko and David Brake in The Social Media Bible (John Wiley & Sons). "What are you trying to get them to converse about? Things that will help you generate revenue or increase company profits, of course." This excerpt from The Social Media Bible describes the four pillars necessary to support any social media strategy: 

Think of your social media strategy as a platform supported by four pillars. You really need all four pillars in order to stabilize the platform and make the strategy work. Those four pillars are: 

1    Communication
2    Collaboration
3    Education
4    Entertainment. 

These four pillars are categories of audience engagement and before you can master them you have to stop and consider what you're already doing and the results you're either getting or missing.


What Are You Really Communicating?
One of the problems with many traditional means of communicating with your audience is that you cannot accurately measure the impact of your communication strategy…. With some social media tools, you can measure things that eventually translate into something on your company profit-and-loss statement. For example, let's say you develop a monthly newsletter delivered via email. Your email might include a special discount offer with a link to your website where your customer can request more information or place an order. These requests or orders can be measured and a cause-and-effect relationship can be determined. 

Social Media BibleIf email strikes you as too traditional a communication strategy, consider the valueof measuring traffic on your own YouTube channel or your blog. Whatever content or message you post, the number of views, visits, or subscriptions can be measured. More importantly, you can get feedback on ''what'' you are communicating because your audience can comment on your communication. You can even measure the number of comments. 

In Celebration of Collaboration
Many people think of collaboration in terms of a process to be managed rather than a set of tools to be engaged. Thus, you might say that brainstorming sessions, conference calls, and company strategy retreats are among your current methods of collaboration. You might even argue that the telephone and the office copy machine facilitate collaboration. Indeed, these may be effective methods for your company, and they may lead to desirable results, but what if the process of collaboration itself became a highly valued product? 

Earlier in this book you were introduced to the Wiki, a social media tool that allows you to collaboratively create and edit content. Assume for a moment that the content you want to create is a best practices manual for a process or procedure that is a core part of your business. For the sake of this discussion, it really doesn't matter what that process or procedure is; it could be a guide to diagnosing problems in turbine engines or a how-to manual for call center managers. By establishing a company Wiki, you can enable your employee community to collaborate in ways that have never been possible before; they can create and maintain a dynamic productivity tool that is regularly altered and improved. You can leverage their collective wisdom for the benefit of your organization. In effect, the Wiki becomes not only a method of collaboration but a product of collaboration as well. 

Is it possible or even advisable to get your customers and prospective customers to engage in some form of collaboration that will benefit your company? The answer is yes, but the concept can be a bit counterintuitive. After all, imagine what kind of things your customers could say about you if you were to enable that conversation through one or more social media tools that allow them to interact with and influence one another. Talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Ask yourself this, however: Do you gain more by sponsoring or at least endorsing this kind of conversation than you do by running from it? Arnold Kim's MacRumors.com, attracts 4.4 million visitors a month, most of them eager to get the inside scoop on Apple products or exchange information, gossip, and user tips. If you were Apple Computer would you endorse this kind of community or would you look for an opportunity to participate in the conversation and perhaps influence this community? 

Engagement through Education
Many of us have had the experience of standing helpless and hapless in front of a plumber as we try hard to understand what the problem is and what the solution will cost. At moments like these, you tend to appreciate an avuncular instructor. You feel better—though not always financially relieved—to get a quick plumbing lesson right there in your flooded basement. You realize that your plumber has expertise, and when that expertise is combined with an ability to effectively educate you about your home's plumbing, you have been engaged by the plumber's expertise.

One real-life plumber who has turned his expertise into content is Big Tony the Plumber. A licensed master plumber, Big Tony joined YouTube in November 2007, and now has his own YouTube channel with approximately 5,000 channel views and nearly 200 subscribers. One of his videos has had over 35,000 views. If you visit his site, you'll see that he has archived a series of videos that address your everyday questions about plumbing. You can even submit questions to Big Tony. In converting his expertise into content, he has also managed to get Google ads to frame his videos. He's even generating product placement revenue; in one of his videos he praises the benefits of the Koehler Power Flush toilet as he demonstrates its operation. Clearly, Big Tony has discovered the importance of converting his expertise into content. 

Your ultimate social media strategy should leverage your expertise and/or the expertise of people within your company. You should consider leveraging the expertise of your customers as well. 

Now That's Entertainment
If kitchen blenders can find a starring role on YouTube, there's reason for just about any business to be optimistic about the prospects of entertaining your audience by finding those attributes of your product or aspects of your company that others might consider entertaining. Be cautious, however, because entertaining doesn't necessarily mean funny. In fact, humor can be dangerous terrain to traverse. What some people find funny is patently offensive to others. Christian Lander's blog site, stuffwhitepeoplelike.com, is a fitting example of content that many people find hilarious and others inappropriate. Lander is building a brand around an audience who enjoys an opportunity to self-deprecate, but his brand of sarcasm and irreverence could prove disastrous to other product offerings.

Don't be afraid to experiment, but try to be interesting and compelling rather than running the risk of missing the mark with something that the majority of your audience will not find funny. This applies to internal audiences as much as it does external audiences. That said, don't avoid humor altogether, just respect it. It may be exactly what your strategy needs.

About the authors: Lon Safko, is a social media strategist and professional speaker, as well as the founder of eight successful companies. David Brake is CEO and founder of Content Connections

"Mastering the Four Pillars of Social Media Strategy" is reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from The Social Media Bible, by Lon Safko and David Brake. Copyright 2009 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.