How many LinkedIn connections or Twitter followers do you have? 500? 800? 1,000+? Gee, that's impressive. Now for the reality check: Measuring your social media communities purely by the numbers doesn't really count for much. What does count is how engaged your connections are with you, your ideas, and your discussions.

Engagement = interest = a professional relationship.

The right content, obviously, is the key to driving engagement, but how exactly do you use content tactically? First, you have to build a community that actually drives business value and keeps its members interested and involved.

Here are some proven tips I always count on to ensure I'm cultivating a community that will deliver the goods. Keep in mind that I play primarily in the B2B arena, so the strategies focus on LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogs. Many of the tactics will apply to other channels, such as Facebook—which should certainly be a key component for those in the B2C space.

1. Target

First, zero in on your ideal targets and listen to them; later, you will use different forms of communications to go after them. To find them on Twitter, research profiles by keyword to identify thought leaders in your space (start with's Twitter bio search). For LinkedIn, start by searching groups that sync with your goals, perspectives, and personality. At this point, your goal is merely to identify candidates.

Then search both LinkedIn and Twitter for the easy targets, such as current and former colleagues, customers, vendors, subcontractors, and suppliers. Don't forget former employees of current clients who have moved on and can start to bring you into their environments. You can connect with these folks immediately since a relationship is already established. Connecting with "strangers" effectively will take some additional work.

2. Listen

With LinkedIn, take a passive approach at first by getting a sense of each group's culture and content focus. Some are fun, others are more serious. Similarly, for Twitter, you'll want to do plenty of listening to get an idea of content and tone before you start following and jumping in.

3. Connect and contribute
Once you've identified your targets, start following and chiming in on conversations. Introduce yourself and build awareness of who you are and what you do. Do the same for LinkedIn groups. Remember to be genuine and make meaningful contributions. Stay away from "me-formation"!

You can also start reaching out to intermediaries who influence your industry, such as reporters, trade association representatives, and trade event organizers. Continue to listen in on what others are focusing on, tweeting, and blogging about.

As your relationships via various discussions grow, continue to invite those with whom you feel the closest affinity to connect with you. You may even invite them to join your own LinkedIn group! Before you post a blog, push it out to them. Ask them whether they have any thoughts about it. Quote them in it if they have something really interesting and relevant to say.

Wrap your content around your community members so they feel as if a part of it—not just bystanders.

4. Stay in the game

Once you've mastered Steps 1 to 3, you just need to keep it going. It takes continual dedication to succeed in the long term. I like to think of it not as another task on my to-do list but as a break from my daily routine: a chance to not only find out what everyone's doing and thinking about but also connect and feel some emotional support from my professional colleagues.

At the very least, check in daily to see whether you have new participants you can acknowledge, and so you can keep the conversations going. If you don't have the time to stay on your social activities, get some assistance. You can delegate some of the responsibilities, build a larger support team, or consider hiring a marketing firm to do it for you. Make sure they have really granular industry experience and "get" your personality and culture, since you're basically hiring them to be you.

* * *

Nothing I've said here is rocket science. But it does take real commitment, a methodical approach, and patience. The outlined strategies will be effective if you follow them closely. I guarantee you will succeed in the long run. Give it a shot and send me an email at to let me know how it works.

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image of Philip Paranicas

Philip (Phil) Paranicas is director of new product development at He is responsible for creating new products and services that support ThomasNet's mission of helping bring buyers together with sellers. Reach him via

Twitter: @Flip2Market

LinkedIn: Phil Paranicas