Social media are communication channels that no business or individual can afford to ignore. If you use a Facebook or a Twitter account smartly, you can establish a relevant, personal contact with your audience, build a relationship of trust, position yourself as an expert in your field and have a constant, real time pulse-check on what is on your targets’ mind. The result? Enhanced brand equity, broader and better reputation, credibility, endorsement and - at the end of the day - more business. This article contains a very concise review of what I consider the three most relevant social networks - Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin - and a few tips on how to make the most out of them. In addition, I will point to a couple of niche networking sites that are interesting from a business standpoint.
Facebook boasts having over 400 million active users, half of them logging on at least once each day. While Facebook is increasingly being used as a marketing tool to reach customers and consumers, I believe it is most valuable when used to reach out to people in a personal, open, enticing way. In other words, Facebook is more suitable to enable connections than to advertising or selling a product.
For instance, you can create a Facebook profile for your company like you would do for a person. You can start building a network of friends and fans to listen and interact with them, share articles and links of interest about your industry and inform your community about your news, special offers, new products, etc. You can also create a Facebook group focused on a relevant theme and bulk invite all your friends to join — inside and outside Facebook. A group, like a Facebook page, allows you to host a discussion, message all the members, and post and exchange videos, pictures and articles. Facebook hosts several groups that are not related to any business in particular, but are useful for connecting professionals and providing a good platform for job postings and discussions. Before creating your own group, I recommend you join an existing one and observe how it works. You can tell the quality of a group from the number of its members and the frequency with which it is updated.
Here are a few other tips for using Facebook. Whether you manage a personal account, a business page or a group, keep your language informal. Regularly update your status and make use of different medias to keep it lively and attractive. You can alternate text, pictures, videos and links – including links to your blog or website. Don’t forget to network with other networks. If you have a profile on Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc., make sure you cross reference them for more traffic. There are several companies that have made an outstanding job gathering advocates on Facebook, such as Nike and Microsoft. The Facebook page www.facebook.com/facebook provides several example of companies that have succeeded with their Facebook strategy. I recommend visiting this page to gather ideas and find best practices.
Linked is similar to Facebook, in that it allows users to create a network of colleagues, join an existing group or create their own. However, whereas Facebook speaks the informal language of “friends”, LinkedIn mostly speaks a more formal, professional language. It is best used to present and valorize a person’s business profile, enable business connections and entertain discussions focused on a particular sector, expertise or activity.
Here are a few tips on how to make the most out of your LinkedIn account. For a start, spend some time refining your profile. Make sure it includes (and repeats) key-words relating to your expertise and business, so that you will show up not only in LinkedIn search, but also on search engines. You should personalize your default LinkedIn URL (under “Public Profile” > “Edit”) so you can cut & paste it in your e-mails, CV, etc and use it as a link to your profile.
“LinkedIn Answers” offers very good opportunities to position yourself as an expert on a given topic. You can start by searching questions in your market using the dedicated search tool and provide your answers. This is also a very good way to introduce yourself and reach out to people beyond your direct contacts, including potential partners or customer. Similarly, you can join a relevant LinkedIn Groups (search the best for you in the LinkedIn Group Directory) and take part in their discussions. These channels give you the opportunity to find (or offer!) useful resources, conference or training announcements and events. Are you looking for a personable, non intrusive way to contact a target company? With “Companies”, you can identify the appropriate person to address, be introduced to him/her via one of your direct contacts or simply contact them directly with a LinkedIn message. Linkedin Advanced Search is an effective way to find potential customers and target companies. It allows searching by key-words and filtering by geography, industry and language. Finally, LinkedIn offers interesting applications such as "Company Buzz", which allows you to track the activity and trends generated by your company or others on Twitter; "Huddle Workspaces", which offers a secure online space and collaborative tools to work with other people online, and "Polls", which lets you conduct quick online surveys with your contacts and Linked In professionals.
Don’t get Twitter? Well, think of it as SMS-like updates on what a person is doing or on what is happening with regards to a specific theme or topic. Twitter is a massive collection of real-time snapshot conversations that transmits to you the "touch and feel" of what is happening in the world. It is a favorite radio station constantly tuned on a person or a topic you are interested in, where you always find the latest information even before it hits the news elsewhere. Finally but most importantly, Twitter is an incredibly powerful search engine. Twitter has its own lingo: your "Followers" are all those people who are interested in you and get all your 140 character updates, that are called "Tweets". "Following" indicates the people you are interested in and tuned on. You will find all the other information you need on Twitter in the "Help Center".
How do you make the best out of your Twitter account? Here are some basic rules. Setting up a basic account is quick and easy, but take it a little further. Customize your page with a unique design, integrate your picture, logo and colors. Compile your profile using as many relevant key-words as possible, so people can find you and you will show up in search engines. Link your Twitter page to Facebook and LinkedIn to increase traffic. (However, avoid sending your tweets over to Facebook or Linkedin – their frequency and register is not adapted to these channels). Setting up your profile is important. However, Twitter is not so much about who you are, but what you talk about. This is a great channel to establish yourself as an expert in a given topic. Be informative, share resources, offer help (but do not spam and do not advertise!). At the same time, be personal and personable, offer snapshot of who you are, what you like, where you go, always answer to @replies directed to you. It is not always easy to find something to twit about, but there are plenty of options and resources.
For instance, you can retweet somebody else’s tweet so it will appear on your page. You can look for content in Digg, Google Alerts or Twine. You can share useful links (remember to shorten them or they will take up all your 140 characters! You can use www.TinyURL.com). Remember that it is ok to be repetitive on Twitter. You will increase the chances that your followers see your tweet. Who should you follow? I would include customers, business associates, vendors, opinion leaders in your industry and competitors. How do you find them on Twitter? You have several options. For instance, you can use the Advanced Search (Search.Twitter.Com => Advanced search), TweepSearch, Twibes.com or Twellow.com. Mr. Tweet (http://MrTweet.com) is a great tool to help you find relevant people to follow, as it will automatically introduce interesting people for you to follow every week. Once you have to manage a large number of followers, I suggest using TweetDeck.com rather than your browser. Here you can create lists, choose your favorites contacts, follow topics in real time and much more. A couple of niche networking sites worth checking out
Biznik is a small but efficient community of entrepreneurs and small businesses located everywhere in the world. It is a very effective B2B Networking site, especially if you are looking for business partners. If you want to submit a business article (beware: no advertising pieces!), it is automatically distributed to all Biznik members (over 50,000).
Merchant Circle is the largest US local business social networking site. Member businesses have the ability to upload pictures, write blogs, create coupons and send online newsletters through the network. One interesting feature is that costumers can leave reviews on business listing pages, and the business owners can respond. Since Merchant Circle is a Google partner, whenever a member business name is typed in Google, it is listed on Google’s first page.
Fast Pitch Networking
Fast Pitch Networking is an international network of professionals. Once you create have created your professional profile, you can access a range of marketing and communications tools to drive new business. The most interesting feature is a free application that assists members in the creation of their press releases and disperses them to 20 online media outlet.
As a conclusion, I would like to make an important point. An effective use of social networks requires a plan. First of all, you should identify your target audience and define your key messages. Then, choose the best suited social networks, set your goals and allocate the time you will spend on each of them. I recommend using multiple points of entry, keeping your messages consistent and integrate wherever and whenever possible key-words that are pertinent to your activity or business. This way you will show up more frequently in search engines, obtaining additional visibility. Ping.fm is an excellent tool to manage your presence in all your networking sites from just one place. However, it is best to repurpose content for each of your social networks depending on their characteristics and on your objectives. Finally, remember that exposing to social media is not without risks: for instance, you may incur in online criticism or defamatory statements. I would recommend keeping a responsive, honest and respectful dialogue with your network even when you are under attack. Talk to your customers like you would in a normal conversation: this is the best approach.