As companies grow, entrepreneurs inevitably find they need to hire other employees because they can’t possibly be in contact with all customers at all times. That same thinking applies to how companies should use social media. While it’s important to have an official presence on Facebook, Twitter and the like, a successful social media strategy means listening to, encouraging and interacting with a lot of other voices as well.

This might seem a little overwhelming at first. After all, just overseeing corporate accounts can feel like a lot of work. From identifying the right content to publish, how often to post and when to engage in two-way conversations with followers takes time and energy. How can you also focus on what employees are saying and doing on these channels, or other parts of the organization’s ecosystem like suppliers and partners?

It might make things easier to think of social media like a cocktail party where you come to network and build your professional brand. Imagine standing in a circle of people and spending all your time trying to do as much of the talking as possible. Yes, people might notice you, but they might also be turned off by the extent to which you’re trying to dominate the conversation. That kind of behaviour will also mean you’re constantly competing with other blowhards who are doing the same thing.

Imagine instead that you choose your moments to speak in that cocktail party more carefully, only offering anecdotes and jokes that naturally arise out of what else is being said. Next, imagine encouraging another party-goer you know to share a joke they tell particularly well. Picture yourself raising a toast to the caterers or event hosts that put on the event. That’s much more akin to a social media strategy that factors in your staff and even other companies that are tied to your small or medium-sized business (SMB) or startup.

While behaving this way at a cocktail party as an individual may require some innate social graces and charm, you can do the same thing as a company on social media if you plan accordingly and map out the scenarios where you’ll need to focus on specific kinds of activities:
 

1. Offer a Consistent Set of Content and Transparency In Your Social Calendar
 

A lot of the content on social media from companies is based on promoting various assets they’ve produced. These could be blog posts, webinars, white papers or eBooks, infographics and videos. Often marketing teams have a schedule or calendar for when these assets will be shared on specific channels, and whether they’ll use specific images and links for tracking purposes.

Start engaging and collaborating with other stakeholders by providing visibility into this schedule, and encouraging them to do some of their own sharing. For employees, this could be done through internal social networking tools or portals. For partners and suppliers it could be as simple as a semi-regular email newsletter.

Make it clear that sharing on individual or other company accounts is optional, but even a sort of casual “FYI alert” about your upcoming social shares could influence how they use the same channels. In some cases they might simply choose to “like” or reshare your posts, which only serves to boost your results as well.
 

2. Monitor and Team Up as Opportunities Arise
 

Social listening tools can be a great way to stay abreast of what employees, partners and other stakeholders are saying and to identify conversations where your official account could contribute something relevant. In other cases there are tools within a particular platform to help with this process. Create a list on Twitter, for instance, to see all your employees with accounts at a glance. Press the “Follow” button next to the names of your partners or suppliers on LinkedIn to ensure their updates pop up in your own feed.

It goes without saying that you should not only be posting regularly from a corporate account but amplifying others’ posts, responding or adding comments to a discussion as appropriate and even tagging users who might be interested in an introduction through social media channels. There are still other ways to collaborate, though.

Twitter chats are probably one of the most common methods to have a live event-style discussion that can span participants from all around the world. Other options include conducting a Facebook Live chat with a customer or partner as you launch a new product, or co-creating a video you post to both your corporate LinkedIn account and that they can use on theirs (maybe editing different segments for each). If you use more visually-oriented social networks like Instagram, you can create a series of photos or even a short video of an event that gets posted to your Instagram Story, and that they can add to their account’s Instagram Story if you tag them.
 

3. Suggest Some Rules of Engagement
 

You can mandate policies around social media with employees, but it might be different with suppliers, partners or customers. Given that these channels can become home to critical or even controversial conversations, though, it doesn’t hurt to proactively communicate with members of your ecosystem about how you plan to handle certain scenarios, and how they could help.

What’s the best way for a staff member, customer or vendor to notify you if they see something about your firm on social media where your corporate account isn’t tagged, for example, or if it’s sent to them as a direct message? If there are malfunctioning links or errors in the content you share, what’s the best way to reach out for corrections or fixes? If someone comments to your firm’s social accounts about a partner or customer with a question or complaint, how do you plan to triage issues with them?

Draft what seems to make sense based on how you might behave in offline channels and bring it forward to all your stakeholders. Adhering to these policies may be voluntary in some cases, but it’s better for your policies to be known than not.

All these elements should reinforce the fact that social media platforms are not merely marketing or service channels, where a company can simply deliver a one-way message, they are portals to communities. You’ll be more successful the more you approach them as such -- hand-in-hand with partners, customers and even other members of your team.