The Green Sheet Online Edition
April 27, 2009 • Issue 09:04:02
Marketing with social networks
The Rolodex was a 20th century social networking device. That ancient mechanism for organizing contacts has given way to much more powerful networking tools for our wired world.
In just a few years, sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have become popular tools used by professionals to stay in touch with colleagues, make new contacts, market themselves and their companies, and engage in discussions that expand knowledge.
According to Wikipedia, social networks build Web-based communities of people with shared interests or activities to provide ways for members to interact through mediums like e-mail and instant messaging.
Just like a computer network connects computers through a set of cables, social networks connect individuals by a set of social relationships, such as friendship, co-working or information exchange.
According to a new report by The Nielsen Co. entitled "Global Faces and Networked Places," two-thirds of the world's Internet population visit social networking or blogging sites, accounting for almost 10 percent of all time spent online.
Social networking offers new ways to communicate and share information and, much like the Internet itself, is now a mainstay of everyday life. There are three major types of social networking connectors:
- Category systems that have divisions such as classmates
- Connection systems that use self-description pages
- Recommendation systems that involve trust
Some networks are open; others have restrictions. Sites can come with restrictions based on age, interests or profiles (such as moms-to-be) while others allow users to participate by invitation only. Several of the most popular networking systems even combine types.
Wikipedia lists over 150 social networks worldwide. It shows the criteria for joining, as well as the estimated number of registered users within each network. More than 50 of these sites claim over 20 million members. The top 10 social networks active in the United States are:
Join the in-crowd
Social networking isn't just for your children anymore; it's now considered mainstream, and the annual growth in participants is huge. From December 2007 through December 2008, Facebook added almost twice as many 50- to 64-year-old visitors than visitors who were under 18, according to Nielsen.
More and more professionals are using social networks to build and store connections, in addition to their e-mail address books and Rolodexes. Fewer companies are allocating budgets for conferences and travel. Instead, maintaining a network of professional colleagues is becoming increasingly important. Face-to-face meetings are the exception rather that the rule in today's economy - a trend that is likely to continue for several years.
Find the right fit
Keep in mind that social networking comes with security concerns, since fraudsters troll these sites looking for useful information with which to defraud the public. Taking security into consideration, the question then becomes, Is there a place in your business marketing strategy for social networks?
It is always a challenge to find the proper mix of marketing approaches - and particularly so in the current economic environment. If you consider only traditional marketing strategies, you may miss an enormous demographic.
Yet, if you attempt to utilize all of the tools available on the Internet, you may become overwhelmed. As you evaluate the possibilities of adding social networking to your marketing portfolio, following are questions to consider:
- What is your goal or purpose in utilizing social media? Is your purpose to meet other professionals in your industry? Is your goal to drive customers to your business? These questions will weigh directly on what networks you consider.
- What is your competition doing? If your competition is already actively using social media, you may find yourself at a competitive disadvantage. If you determine you need to add this method to your advertising strategy, consider carefully the kinds of sites available, and evaluate them cautiously in light of your marketing goals.
Once you decide to use social networks, use them consistently and effectively. If you use them in a haphazard way, you will be wasting your time and energy.
- How can using these networks further the development of your brand? Consider this type of marketing as a giant billboard advertising your company. Every line you write, every graphic you post, every comment you make must be treated as a direct reflection of your company. If you make spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors, this will adversely affect your company's image.
- Is creating a company blog the best avenue for you? You can post articles, links, coupons, press releases and so forth on your blog. If you decide this is the appropriate means of outreach, be sure to use your logo, your company colors, your mission statement and other marketing tools. This will ensure consistency in the way you convey your message.
- What is the best vehicle to use? Don't waste time posting on every site available. Conduct research, and choose sites that will help you connect with your target demographic. Pick ones that reflect the distinctive capabilities of your business and will drive the largest number of customers to your business.
- How much of your advertising budget do you want to spend on social media? While the majority of social networks are free, it takes time to create, update and maintain a presence on these networks. Do you have an adequate number of staffers to whom you can designate the work for this upkeep?
Take the plunge
Once you've determined that using social networks can be an effective marketing strategy for your company, waste no time in getting started. Who knows? Perhaps I will see your business on Facebook. Then maybe we'll do lunch on Twitter.
Vicki M. Daughdrill is the Managing Member of Small Business Resources LLC, a management consulting company. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 601-310-3594.
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