Two things you need to join the social media conversation, no excuses

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Whether you see you or your company joining social media with just a blog or a blog, Twitter, Facebook account and fan page or whether you are going to jump in and sign up for everything and be everywhere with Digg, LinkedIn, Ustream, Stickam, Tumblr, FriendFeed, podcasting, an Apple iPhone app to connect all these together, you need two basic tool before you even think about doing any of this.

1. A square avatar
2. A 160 character statement about you or your company.

The Avatar

An avatar for your personal blog, accounts, etc is fairly straightforward. It is generally your face. Get photographed professionally, don’t mess around with it by putting cause ribbons on it or turning it green in support of this or that. Pose and dress like others would normally see you at a conference or meeting. More often than not, your social media relationships will start online and your avatar — for better or worse — is how people expect to see you in real life. (Or if you want to go different, check out the avatars Sianz draws with a Sharpie®. Ask her to draw you.)

If you are using your company logo as an avatar, that may present some challenges. The avatar on most social media sites is square. A perfect square. Your logo may be long and horizontal. Get it designed to fit a square box.

This doesn’t mean you need to change the logo, but it does mean that your logo that is 500px wide and 110px tall you tell your designer to “just shrink to fit” will be 200px wide and 44px tall. If the logo is primarily words, it will be unreadable in a Twitter stream. Involve a professional designer as he/she will know how to craft the logo elements in a square without losing your identity. Be flexible. Working in small sizes and an aspect ratio is a whole art in itself. Don’t expect your designer to be able to fit the Sistine Chapel on the head of a pin. It’s an avatar, not a graphic mission statement.

The Statement (mini profile)
160 characters. That is it, no longer. 140 if you can do it and your statement will be Twitter ready when someone there asks “What do you do?”

Be sure to say things in plain language. Think about language you would use when you first meet somebody who knows nothing about you or your company. If you have to explain what your “opportunities for customer satisfaction” are in a separate sentence, you’re not there yet. Hone it down, get to the kernel of what you do and who you are.

Use the keywords that people use to find you within the 160 characters.

Regardless of how many social networks you choose to join, use your statement and avatar consistently. If you decide to make a change, change it everywhere. This means you need to track what you signed up for and where to make those profile changes. Don’t forget about blog comments. Many blogs are using Disqus to manage comments. Get an account and update it with an avatar. You may also want to get a Gravatar that is used across blogs hosted on the WordPress software.

Often, these two simple staples are the last things that are tended to, but they really should be the first. Don’t even think about getting into any social media unless you have them in place.