Hey, isn't it great we're in the Digital Age? The Internet. Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest. Gazillions of people putting their credentials and contacts on social networks, taking all the sport out of new lead acquisition. Right?

I mean, think about it: No more cold-calling. Forget walking miles down rows of cheesy display booths at tradeshows. And remember billboards?

So awesome! We've finally discovered Nirvana! All of our prospects are just hangin' out there on the Web, waiting to be plucked by us savvy marketers via social marketing!

So why do I feel like I'm a zombie on The Walking Dead, looking for fresh blood while shambling aimlessly through crumbled cities and barren forests of desiccated prospects—in the meantime getting a crossbow bolt shot through my eye by some digital media-savvy competitor?

Yeah, social networking is great, but it's more Pandora's Box than panacea. Open the wrong door and hungry zombies will be over you like cockroaches on last week's dinner. If you want to survive in the social media sales and marketing jungle, I've got five handy tips to make sure your social efforts don't look like walking corpses.

First, All Social Networks Are Not Equal

Like Facebook. (But they even made a movie about it!) Before you pour your entire digital budget in Facebook, consider this: 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs use Facebook, and that number is on the decline. More important, Facebook is not a business network. According to a recent Pew poll, 47% of Facebook users say they are looking for photos and videos from friends, and 39% are looking for humorous content. So unless you're The Cartoon Network, perhaps Facebook is not your primary venue.

LinkedIn, on the other hand, is the self-professed "world's largest professional network." Boring? Well, maybe, if your looking for a cat playing with yarn; but the fact is, people come to LinkedIn to expand their business networks: 22% of all top-ranking executives primarily use Linked in for networking, and a whopping 66% of all users visit the site at least a few times a week. Doesn't sound like a hangout for the undead.

And then there is Twitter. Despite having the most dysfunctional leadership history in Silicon Valley, Twitter has amassed bazillions of users and a $30 billion market cap! That says a lot about the power of this media. Now, those of you paying attention may point out that only 5.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are on Twitter. But that number is on the rise. More important, 61% of Fortune 500 companies are on Twitter.

People use Twitter to stay on top of the latest news and trends; if you use it deftly, your brand could be among them. Twitter is a cheap and effective way to communicate with prospective customers—especially if you heed the few basic premises I outline below.

So... Profile Your Target

Engaging on Twitter—or LinkedIn—is not simply a matter of finding a prospect and bombarding him or her with crap. You need to take the time to know your target—their likes, habits, hot buttons—to get inside their head. You need to read their tweets to establish their patterns, develop tactics—a battle plan—just as you would if you were planning an account strategy for a new account using traditional media.

Look for interests, the topics—and the people with whom they interact on social networks. What is your target's style? Direct and to-the-point, or do they engage with others using humor? Once your tactics are in place, engage; subtly and naturally become part of your target's community.

Next, Engage, But Mildly—at First!

OK, so how to I engage—subtly and naturally? Not unlike face-to-face selling, engagement on social networks is often about making your prospect feel like a star. People like it when you share their content—retweet it—comment on it. Despite their digital avatars, they are human after all.

So start sharing of some of your target's posts—or "favoriting" them. Likely, they'll begin to take notice—and hopefully engage with you. Eventually, if all goes well, the discussion will move from a social network to private email.

But this approach only goes so far—eventually you have to demonstrate your value. By demonstrating common interests, understanding issues or pain points—and offering relevant solutions.

Fourth, Eureka! I've Connected (Um... Now What?)

So if all that has gone according to plan, your target will eventually get curious—"who is this guy?"—and to answer that, he or she will probably start checking out your own social content. Who are you, what are you posting on Twitter, on LinkedIn? Are their common intersections? Past companies, schools, etc.?

So it is important how you are representing yourself on social networks. Posting stupid dopepictures of you at last night's rave will probably not inspire a lot of confidence—or a retweet. Which leads to the final tip...

Don't Be a Dope

If you're looking to make mega-commissions marketing and selling on social networks, use your head. Don't retweet everything your target posts. Nobody likes an online stalker. It's OK to be humorous and edgy, but keep it professional—and topical. Make sure your prospect gets the perception that you know your stuff—that you speak with authority. That you're not some kid living in his parent's basement spending 20 hours on the Internet each day posting stories about cats and drinking.

So that's about it: Do your homework, use your head, and be persistent. It's not rocket science, but it does take thought, and effort. Do it right, and you'll be the one landing the fat checks while your competitors are stumbling around the Georgia woods, skin hanging in shreds, while growling unintelligibly.

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image of Gary Griffiths

Gary Griffiths is a co-founder and the CEO of Trapit, a content curation platform. He is a 30-year veteran of the high-tech industry and has held executive roles in some of the Web's most pioneering companies.

LinkedIn: Gary Griffiths