Written by Pat
Social networking in an online setting is dramatically different than in-person networking.
Traditional networking involves swapping business cards at monthly meetings and having occasional lunches with a few new acquaintances.
In an online setting, social networking is about forming a vast community of people with common interests, and meeting on a platform where you can interact frequently with the use of online resources and tools. Through the platform and tools available from the social networking sites, users can submit content such as blogs, videos, and photo albums that help bring large numbers of like-minded people together quickly.
The more open nature of social networking sites is in contrast to the anonymous forums and bulletin boards that were very popular earlier in the decade. Those sites are rapidly losing users to more social outlets like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.
Since MySpace first came on the scene, social networking has exploded. All businesses, particularly online businesses, should be watching and reaching out to their customers through social networking sites.
So, the question is: Why should a business be represented on social networking sites?
It’s about reputation management.
In the past, consumers had limited avenues to publicly discuss a company or its products. Their outlet was to complain to the company and maybe a few friends. Now everyone with an email account can be their own publisher and write a post on their blog about their experience. In fact, many people think nothing of jumping on twitter or myspace and complaining about the meal they had last night at Chili’s. They have an instant audience. Now what if Chili’s has a corporate rep that scans the major social networking sites to find opportunities like this. A smart business would use this information to:
If handled correctly, the positive effects would become amplified many times over by the viral nature of online networking.
It’s about trust.
Think about it. When you were going to buy a new digital camera, where did you look for information and guidance? Chances are you looked online at product reviews. You are not alone. In 2008, according to a study by PowerReviews and Forrester Research, 68% of online shoppers read at least four reviews before making a purchase. That’s a lot of people putting faith in the user-generated content of social networking.
Here’s the hard truth: The consumers are making decisions without your influence. The consumer no longer has to rely on your marketing messages when they are shopping. They have their ‘friends’ and their ‘network’ to turn to. A savvy business will become a part of this process. If there’s a ‘tweet’ on Twitter about you or your product, reach out to the consumer. You now have a chance to dialogue with your customer and maybe an opportunity to gain some new customers while making changes to improve your business.
It’s about change.
My kids have never known a world without the internet. There’s never been a time in their lives when they couldn’t go online to research a product, find an answer or contact a company for support. They play games on Xbox Live, sometimes with people they’ve never met in real life. They are used to reaching out and having new people become myspace ‘friends’. They don’t understand why some people hide behind anonymous user IDs on bulletin boards while their own real name and pictures are on their facebook pages.
This generation expects more when it comes to interactions with people online, but businesses haven’t embraced Web 2.0 practices like videos and blogs and they are struggling to keep up with the growth in social networking environments. The fact is they need to pay attention because interactive marketing is quickly replacing traditional marketing efforts. Once businesses understand the shift, they can be more innovative with their efforts, taking the conversations online with their customer base.
So I’m ready to get into social networking. Where do I start? What are some social networking sites?
You’d be surprised how many different places you can network and interact with people on the internet. There are as many social networking sites as there are interests. Are you into music? Become a DJ of your own station at www.blip.fm and chat with people with similar music tastes while serving up some tunes. Want to join an art related networking site? Try www.deviantart.com where artists and those that appreciate art interact. Need a site where you can network with folks from your local geographic area? Try www.meetup.com. There’s bound to be a meetup group with a focus area that you are interested in.
Want to know the best social networking sites for businesses? Here are three of the most well known social networking sites that businesses should have a presence on:
www.myspace.com – Still the largest online space in terms of visitor traffic; this is the site that began the trend. Here you set up a page for your brand or store, upload pictures that might include your logo and product shots, and write blog posts. Once you’ve set up, you start searching for ‘friends’ to add to your network. These friends might be people you already know or those who you want to reach out to like potential customers. You can even use your MySpace page to display some of your products. You have the potential to attract new customers by becoming ‘friends’ with many people and growing your network. MySpace is geared to the younger crowd; however, the latest demographics show MySpace gaining traction with the over-30 set. More than 75% of their users are under 35. MySpace is a great outlet to have a presence if your products are suited to that demographic or especially if you are in a music-related niche. Warning: busy myspace backgrounds may trigger migraines.
www.facebook.com – This site appeals to a slightly older crowd; almost half (48%) of the users are in the 18-34 range. Facebook shares a very similar user base with Twitter, however, Facebook has substantially more visitors (51.6M for Facebook vs. 2.4M for Twitter). Originally started by a Harvard student, Facebook was first open only to students at Harvard and then to a limited number of other college campuses before becoming a mainstream site. Now anyone over the age of 16 can join Facebook. On Facebook, you connect by joining networks of users organized by city, workplace or school. Unlike the totally customizable MySpace page, your Facebook page uses only plain text. The emphasis here is on the connections, not the fancy page layouts. Your ‘friends’ can post messages to you on the ‘wall’ – a space that every facebook user has. One of the most cherished features on facebook is the photo album where you can upload an unlimited number of pictures to share with your friends. Bonus: Facebook is easy to set up and user friendly.
www.twitter.com – Twitter is another site where you can directly connect with customers. In my opinion, Twitter offers the best opportunity for businesses and consumers to interact. The premise of Twitter is that you are answering the question, “what are you doing,” and you have only 140 characters of text to make your comment (also known as a ‘tweet’). You connect to other users by ‘following’ them. Those people who are interested in you or your business will ‘follow’ you back. You can also do searches on Twitter by keyword to find people that may have interests similar to you or your business. Follow them! And, don’t forget to put a badge on your web site with your Twitter user ID so that customers and potential customers will know you can be found on Twitter. There are many large corporations already set up with accounts. They use Twitter to post bulletins about service issues and respond to ‘tweets’ sent to them by their followers. Some businesses use Twitter to run contests and offer discounts to those that follow them. Starbucks uses Twitter to tweet about the changes coming to their menu – smart thinking for them; they can grab all the feedback from their followers. It’s like a free focus group. A word of warning: twitter is very addictive.
Social networking is here and it’s time you joined the party. So if you’re new to social networking sites, and are ready to dive in, I have only two words for you: HAVE FUN!