If you are starting out online either through a Web site, Facebook page, or Twitter, it is always good to learn by example. However, you need to make sure you are finding GOOD examples.
In the late 90’s, it was easy to find Web sites and copy their layouts. The problem was, there were a lot of BAD Web sites. If you didn’t find a well designed Web site, and you didn’t know any better, your Web site was all of a sudden really bad.
This is just like being a new kid at a school. It is easy to randomly pick someone and follow them around and do what they do to fit in, but what if they are the school jerk or bully? Do research. Go in with morals and principles then find friends that align with your principles. Similarly, go into Web site design knowing good usability principles, and then pull ideas from other places that align with those principles.
If you hire a designer, know your Web usability guidelines first. Find a designer who shares your principles. (A great place to educate yourself on Web design principles is Jakob Nielsen’s Web site.)
Same goes with social media. If you are starting out down the social media path, I really recommend finding those people that are willing to give you a behind the scenes look. Part of the success of using social media is not to “just be doing it because everyone else is,” but to actually make it successful for you!
Again, do your research. With social media, don’t just follow what marketers are saying to do, follow what those who are using social media successfully are doing. (Authors, podcasters, photographers, etc) Real world experience is key.
I think a great example of learning from real world experience was when Frederick Van Johnson and Chris Marquardt started out the first 30 minutes of TWiT Special #27: Photo Day 2010 talking about how they have used social media to expand the marketing of their photography. They shared what they learned, and though their trade is photography, I felt the tips went for anyone looking at using social media to market their services.
Probably the #1 tip I gleaned from the episode was this: Give, give, give, then request. Frederick Van Johnson talks about how you need to build an interest in yourself, put out non-marketing related tweets so that people get to know YOU and then put out something like, “My book is coming out, as a follower I’m offering you a discount” (my words, I took the liberty of paraphrasing).
So, my lesson today, don’t just do something because someone else is doing it–maybe they aren’t doing it well. Find someone doing it well and copy them! Well, don’t copy, but make it your own. That’s another important point. As the judges on American Idol would say, “That’s an all time great song, dog, but you didn’t own it. I didn’t feel that connection,” or, “I love that song, but for you, the best part of that song was when it ended. I could have heard that in a karaoke bar or on a cruise ship, you didn’t add anything to it. No connection what-so-ever.”
As long as you have a great role model, and you add your own flavor, you should be on the road to success.