Social Networking: A Practical Business Guide
Marketing and sales is about reaching out to people. People are on social networks so you, or your company, should be out there too. For some companies, a particular social network such as Facebook is another valuable marketing channel. For others, a social network might be a way they interact with their key customers or vendors.
Should I engage in social networking?
If so, how? What strategies should I consider?
How much of my internet marking plan should it be?
Social networking can and perhaps should be a part of your internet marketing. It is an integral part of many successful business' overall marketing plans and social networking is the new "in" marketing tool. In-person networking works as well as ever but getting to and from events is very time consuming. Social networking is free and how much time you devote to it can vary depending on how much time you have.
For decades, many new or struggling businesses could place a yellow pages ad and count on the phone ringing. Yellow pages directories still exist but do not have the same clout they once had. Having a well-built website and optimizing it for business through white-box SEO is critical so those customers seeking you, can find you. However, websites and search engines alone cannot yet fully replace the power once held by yellow pages directories. Social networking can be a key part in your effort to make up the gap between the two.
What is social networking?
Social networking is free and you can devote a little time or a lot of time to it.
A social network is an online community of people. Social networking, like in-person networking, is about interacting with those people. Networking is about building relationships. Social networking is about building online relationships. Social networks breakdown into two types: common interests and general purpose.
Common Interest Social Networks
Common interest social networks focus on building online communities of people who share interests and/or activities. Generally common interest social networks are smaller than general purpose social networks.
For example, here at Prestwood IT we have an online community of nearly 11,000 members. The Prestwood Online Community focuses on leading and emerging technologies and is geared toward all computer users as well as I.T. professionals. Within our community we have 30 groups each of which has anywhere from a few hundred members to a few thousand.
General Purpose Social Networks
Also known as virtual communities, general purpose social networks are not topic specific and have general features that encourage members to interact and participate.
The "in" Social Networks for 2010
Currently Facebook is the "it" website which replaced MySpace which replaced AOL, etc.
The following recommendations and thoughts are a good starting position:
- Facebook - Currently Facebook is the "it" website for social networking. Facebook replaced MySpace which replaced AOL which replaced Compuserve which replaced Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs).
- MySpace - Although Facebook replaced MySpace as the "it" website for social networking in the last few years, MySpace is still a top social website especially for the very young and for bands.
- LinkedIn - Currently Facebook is the "it" website for social networking but LinkedIn is the "it" website for networking with other professionals including coworkers, ex-coworkers, vendors, etc.
- Twitter - Currently Twitter and Facebook are fighting for top spot. Depending on the features they add, in a year or two, Twitter may replace Facebook as the "it" social website.
- YouTube - Currently the "it" website for streaming video. If you have business videos, create a YouTube channel. If you don't have any videos, think about creating some. They can become a part of your overall marketing strategy.
Others To Consider
Although the above are the current "in" general purpose social networks we recommend, there are plenty of others you can consider and should keep an eye on. If you have plenty of spare time or additional staff, you, or your company, could join these as well.
Top General Communities - [Top 20 Most Popular Social Networking Websites]
Personal Accounts vs. Business Accounts
This can be a treaky decision so read this section carefully. Online communities frequently offer more than one type of account. For example, they may allow you to have either a personal or business account or a mix of both. However, make sure you understand the types of accounts and then decide which is right for you or your company.
Should I use a business or personal account for my business?
Most social websites allow businesses to use a personal account for their business and some do not. For example, with Facebook they want you to use a personal account whether it's for business or personal. There business account is actually not a full account!! They are designed for individuals who only want to use facebook for to administer Pages and their ad campaigns. Business accounts, for example, cannot view the profiles of users on the site or other content on the site that does not live on the Pages they administer. In addition, business accounts cannot be found in search and cannot send or receive friend requests.
You, You and the Company, or The Company
Larger companies have resources to dedicate 1 or 2 people to handle their social networking. For larger companies, they generally want to use ONLY business accounts. The clear exception is when a company establishes an online liaison. Someone who is or will become the face of the company online. That person becomes their online personality.
If you are a single person company or have a staff of just a few employees, finding time for social networking can be challenging. If your business is essentially you, consider a minimal and realistic strategy. For example, put purely business content on your website and the rest on Facebook. If you have videos, create a YouTube channel for your company as well. Within your web presence, cross-promote.
How can I use social networking?
To effectively integrate social networking into your marketing plan, you need to understand your audience and the nature of the social networks you wish to target. Social networking, like in-person networking, allows you to interact with people. Just like with in-person networking, you have to know who your target audience is and you have to know if that target audience is at a particular social networking website. In addition, you have to know and understand what time commitment there is to using a particular networking group (in-person or online). For some companies, social networking on a primarily personal social website like Facebook makes a lot of sense. For some, it makes more sense to focus on a different audience. For example, for staffing companies and HR departments for many companies, they dive into social networking on LinkedIn.
Social Network Features
None of the technologies used in social networks is new. You've been able to interact with others online since 1980s. I belonged to QLink in the 80s, Compuserve, AOL, and Prodigy in the 90s, and various newsgroups and websites starting in the 90s. The following list of features will give you an idea of what can be done:
- Home Page - Each social network offers each member a home page. Most allow you to customize the content and provide back links to your website which is great for SEO.
- Downloads* -
- Message Boards* -
- Knowledge Base* -
- Manage Friends* -
- Private Messaging* -
- Public Messaging -
- Post Pictures -
- Manage Events -
*The Prestwood Online Community includes this feature. You can see how our common interest community integrates all these various features with pre-specified groups.
Your Content: An Idea
Have a plan for what will go where. Read lots of articles and strategy guides. The following is a big picture guideline and tips to consider while formulating your plan.
By Content Type:
||Info on your products and services. Keep on your website and cross promote with the various social networks. You can post brief summaries and such on the various social networks but the idea is to drive social network visitors to your website where the main info is located.|
||Your Website or 1 social network.
||This one is a little trickier. You only have control over your website. 4 years from now, you do not know if Facebook, or whatever website, will be around. Think about the demise of AOL, Compuserve, and QLink which aren't even on the top 20 list! Post on your website and one other social website or just post a link from the social website to your website. If the social website ONLY allows original content (like Prestwood), then link from your website to it and keep a copy of your article just in case.|
||Downloads first and foremost should be on your website. You can put them on a trusted download website, but with the risk of viruses, people will be more comfortable downloading your software from your website.|
Company Events Album
|1+ Social Networks
||Social networks are perfect to capture the essence of a company event which is an in-person networking event.|
||You could still use eVite or another event planning website, but if you don't currently have a preference, use Facebook.|
||Use LinkedIn for potential staff, ex-staff, etc.|
||If you have message boards, they should be a part of your website.|
||If you have a knowledge base, it should be on your website.|
Put all your strictly business info on YOUR WEBSITE. Don't bifurcate your message. Assume your visitors are smart enough to find the "one" location for content. Decide if you want all your material on your website, or one of the social networks. Use social networks to cross promote to the business content on your website. Post less formal information that humanizes your business to social networks (not your website but keep a copy for future use with future social networks). If you are not a webmaster, you can push out messages and articles easily through a social network. Combine various social media tools. For example, when someone asks questions on Twitter, you can respond in detail in a blog post or message board post and link to it from Facebook.
The following lists are practical checklists for getting started quickly.
Before Social Networking Checklist
If you are doing no advertising, you could start right off with social networking. However, the following is my checklist I recommend you complete prior to engaging in social networking advertising.
- Website - Have a website and build it right.
SEO - Optimize your website for the search engines (SEO) so customers and potential customers can find you.
Google Local Business - Get in your local directories. Start with Google Local Business.
Push website - Put your website on your traditional marketing materials such as business cards, fliers, etc.
Business Email - Use a business website such as YourName@YourBusiness.com. Do NOT use a generic Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, etc. email address for business. If you like, you can use a separate email for work and personal.
Business Info Email Account - Establish one email for distributing information such as info@YourBusiness.com and promote that as the white-list email.
Setup Back Links - Prestwood.com (see below), YouTube, other websites including social networking.
Google Adwords (or equivalent) - Although social networking is free, your time is valuable and like all networking, it takes time to make social networking work well for you. You should consider putting some of your marketing dollars into an online ad campaign that pushes your ads to prospective customers.
- website should drive visitors to do something
- 3 clicks from your home page to drill-down to any page on your website.
Get Started Now!
Okay, time to get started. Bookmark this page and come back to the following list. Do these in any order you wish but they are in the order we are currently recommending.
- Using Facebook for Business Checklist
- Using LinkedIn for Business Checklist...coming next month! Bookmark this page!
- Using Twitter for Business Checklist...coming next month! Bookmark this page!
- Using YouTube for Business Checklist...coming next month! Bookmark this page!
The following are additional social websites you may wish to consider:
- Using MySpace for Business Checklist...coming next month! Bookmark this page!
Common Interest Social Networking
In addition to participating in the very large general purpose social networks above, consider joining and participating in a common interest social network. For example, if you are an I.T. professional or own a computer, consider joining and participating in the Prestwood Online Community at community.prestwod.com.
Note: The Prestwood Online Community gets an estimated 1.5 million unique monthly visitors each visiting an average of about 5 pages. We are very proud of that but Facebook gets an estimated 250 million unique monthly visitors.
The following are a few of the common interest social networks available:
Reciprocal Back Links
Exchange Links with the Prestwood Online Community!
As a final note, you can include our online community as part of your internet promotion model. Back links are important in that they increase the visibility and importance of your website. Search engines count the number of links to a website and use it to rank the website. So, in addition to linking to/from social networks such as Facebook, find additional web pages you can post links to your websites. Start a blog or a Prestwood Home Page! To get started, join our website and fill out your profile completely.