By Wayne Gibbins, Communications and Partnerships Director, Viadeo.
In the US the use of social media by small businesses has doubled since 2009 according to research from the University of Maryland.
In the UK internet users spend more time on social networks than in online shops according to Hitwise. Social media sites are without doubt the places to be at the moment and for the foreseeable future for any business.
They are increasingly the key mediums for information gathering, sharing and user recommendation and for that reason alone they are important for small businesses.
After a period of peaks and troughs and new market entrants, social media has stabilised a little and the sites that constitute its defining members have become established. Its users are also now easier to define and therefore it is easier for small businesses to understand where they need to be and why.
The growing numbers of users means that social media sites are becoming increasingly attractive as platforms for advertising and marketing as well as a means of discovering new business opportunities and identifying potential partners and employees.
However taking the time to choose the right sites and services for your business is key to getting the most out of social media rather than doing it just for the sake of it.
So what is available and why is it of any use to small businesses?
The essential point to remember is that social media is about engaging with people. The whole philosophy is built around individuals contributing to trends and debates, recommending friends and businesses and suggesting new ideas or interesting news.
The more you put in, the more you get out of it although effort has to be applied across a mix of media and not just one social networking site, for example.
Here are five points to consider:
1. Social networking
Using business social networking sites such as Viadeo is an excellent way to establish a presence online which can be used as a platform from where you can launch a whole range of business networking activities. These sites can and do open doors to new partners, employees and business opportunities. This is good for small businesses both on a local level as well as creating cross-border partnerships. For example, a travel company in the UK selling holiday packages to China could forge links with Chinese agents that have been recommended.
2. Blogs and vlogs
Having an opinion on news and events in your specific industry and providing a valuable insight on your products and services is a good way to engage with existing and potential customers. It shows you are on top of your sector and increases confidence in your firm as a credible source of products and services. They don’t have to be long and complicated, just relevant.
3. You Tube
Using video can be powerful as long as it is well targeted. Selling specific products and services, filming customer comments or putting together regular ‘how to’ sessions can only help improve a company’s customer perception. Videos can be embedded on your own website and linked via a range of alternative social media and networking sites.
A useful tool for publicising your videos, blogs, new launches and so on but also a great platform for engaging with customers and partners on a direct and daily basis. Often Twitter is misunderstood and some people see it as a mechanism for ‘status updates’ but really it should be about having conversations, adding to current news debates and sharing business-related information.
As Kraft and Cadbury have recently discovered, Facebook can mobilise opinion against a brand but for small businesses there is more to be gained than lost as long as you are relevant to the audience you are trying to reach.
The key to any success with social media is engagement. Just putting up a company name is not enough. It’s like going to a networking event and not bothering to speak to anyone.
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