By Bruce Townsend, ecommerce product manager and SEO specialist at Actinic.
With search marketing becoming increasingly competitive, social networking sites are gradually gaining more attention from businesses.
For example, BT is using social networking to manage demand for broadband in rural areas with its ‘Race to Infinity’ programme. At the other end of the scale, Wiggly Wigglers (wigglywigglers.co.uk) has grown a substantial gardening supplies business mainly on the back of podcasting and other social media.
With that in mind, here is a short guide for SMEs wanting to use social networking for business.
The key word to emphasise here is ‘networking’. Social sites are the modern equivalent of traditional business networking meetings. Overt commercial self-promotion is frowned on. The tactic is to engage in discussion, offer selective help and advice, build a reputation and develop business opportunities.
There are several different types of site, of which the following are the most popular.
The only way to really ‘get’ Twitter, the original microblogging site, is to join in! People post (or ‘tweet’) all kinds of random things, from their latest business breakthrough to what the dog had for breakfast. It is effectively a site for thinking out loud.
Being offensive is unacceptable, but people do tend to blurt, which makes it great for monitoring customer satisfaction. If someone is going to complain about your business on a social site, it will probably be Twitter.
Each post, or ‘tweet’, is limited to 140 characters, so you have to be concise. You also need to be personal – remember this is networking, not selling. A string of purely commercial tweets won’t attract attention.
Once you have built up your network, though, interesting tweets can generate clickthrough rates up to around 15%, which is right up with the best of pay-per-click. Special offers are particularly attractive.
Tools like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and Socialoomph can help you manage your account(s). These help you watch for mentions of your brand and keywords, and schedule messages for posting when you’re away.
Facebook is the world’s biggest social site, with over half a billion users. You can create business pages where you can post messages and media, start discussions and display blog posts. You can customise some pages using FBML (Facebook Markup Language), which is based on HTML.
To be successful, you need to build up a network of followers (or ‘Friends’). You can find and invite people you already know by connecting to your online email address book – a wide range is supported, including Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! Anyone who ‘Likes’ you will see your updates.
Facebook works best for products and activities with a social dimension, but almost any organisation can use if effectively. Prezzo (facebook.com/loveprezzo) and the Natural History Museum (facebook.com/naturalhistorymuseum) are two good examples. Even complete unknowns can build up a huge following if they strike the right chord.
The world’s leading video sharing site is widely used by businesses to add both social and audio visual elements to their interaction with customers and prospects. Demos and reviews are particularly popular.
You can upload videos in many formats, and YouTube will automatically convert them to its own. It applies a high level of compression to both the video and audio, which levels the quality standard for everyone. Coupled with the social dimension to the site, it means that video from a cheap camera or mobile phone can compete with expensive corporate marketing.
The key to success is not top quality, but unique and interesting content coupled with a good network of followers. You can also link to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, so that anything you add to YouTube automatically gets posted there as well.
Foursquare is a ‘location-based social networking site’. It enables you to check in at places you visit using a GPS-enabled mobile phone, and leave comments about each venue.
By connecting with other Foursquare users you can pick up recommendations (or warnings) about restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions and virtually any type of venue. Fifty users in one place triggers a ‘swarm’.
For any location-based business, the attractions of this kind of buzz are obvious, and a number have already experimented with Foursquare-specific offers .The Jewel bar in Piccadilly, London, became the first location in the UK to record a ‘superswarm’ – 250 Foursquare users checking in at a single location – by offering free drinks.
Registering your business with Foursquare is easy and free, and checking in is easy using any GPS-enabled mobile device. This type of networking is still in its infancy, and Foursquare faces stiff competition from Facebook Places. How it will fare remains to be seen, but for now, the opportunity is wide open.
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