Hugh MacLeod’s delivery is a little more um, to the point than mine would be. Some people need the message spelled out in black and white.
When a company first starts using social media, it’s like watching someone’s dad play with his first video camera. They seem to share everything in an attempt to “engage” just to show some results. That’s not a judgment, mind you. Everyone has to start somewhere and it’s just counterproductive to be mean about it.
The most powerful thing you can use social media for is listening. “Engaging” your audience without fully understanding who they are and how they relate to you is not engaging at all–it is as irritating as the ad that won’t stop blinking on the blog you are reading.
It is easier than you think to make people to want and need your product. Use tools like Tweetdeck, Google Alerts, RSS, Radian6, Community Insights or ScoutLabs and listen. Track terms in your industry, follow the players who are thought leaders in your space. Understand the current issues occurring in your industry. Create a product that goes above and beyond to solve these issues while not creating lots of other issues. Then show people your product. You can use an ad, a social media guru, whatever. The medium isn’t nearly as important as the message, which is “We are solving these issues you have.”
Listening and then acting upon what people need is far more powerful than any “engaging” you can do. I predict the companies that do it best will win out in 2010.