As with any smart business decisions, always start with your strategy. Ask yourself WHY? You'll save yourself plenty of time and money in the long run. Taking the time to plan out your objectives and how you'll reach them is time well spent. Before you decide to enter the realm of social media, you need to you need to figure out which communities make sense for your audience. You've no doubt heard this before, but an excellent way to discover the foundation of your strategy is to LISTEN. Use listening tools to discover where your target market hangs out and what matters to them. Learning where your target audience already participates will give you a better chance of reaching the right people who want to hear your message and learn more about your product.
Listening tools include the use of social search (Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+), Google News & Alerts and RSS readers like Google Reader. Listening to the industry buzz helps you understand how your product matches your audience and what messages and features really resonate with them.
For listening on Twitter you have a few quick tools. First, search.twitter.com will let you search on keywords, brand names, user names and hashtags. What's a hashtag? It looks like this: #hashtag and can be one word or a mashup of words like #thisisahashtag. The trick with Twitter is that you can search on a single hashtag for an event like #SXSW or a brand like #whitecastle. The search will bring back mentions of that hashtag and related matches by username.
Listening on Facebook is as simple as using the search bar at the top of the page and looking for your own brand name and competitors. This gives you a real time view of who's saying what and when. Outside of that, you'll need to use a website likesocialmention.com or a social media dashboard like Seesmic or SproutSocial.
As far as listening to bloggers, you can't go wrong with a good old RSS reader like the one on Google. It gives you one place to scan through the blog feeds and regularly follow what's trending. You can search out new blogs to follow and subscribe to your favorites.
Give your strategy some kick! Decide how you will focus on differentiators to rise about the noise and demonstrate the value of your product. Some will use social media in this early stage to even crowd source the development of an idea. Put it out there in the stream and ask for feedback.
A foodpreneur tip: Twitter Drives Sales at Food Demos at Supermarkets