By Michael Gavin
Social networks. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google +. According to Nielsen, consumers spend more time on social networks than on any other category of websites – roughly 20 percent of their total time online via personal computer, and 30 percent of total time online via mobile.
Social networks are powerful marketing tools for businesses. In only 10 years, Facebook has amassed over 1 billion users worldwide, with 2.5 million pieces of content shared daily. LinkedIn has grown rapidly since its founding in May 2003. Highly targeted to professionals, the site boasts over 240 million active users worldwide with 3 million business pages.
Twitter, a micro-blogging site, is another social network gaining traction. With more than 560 million active users and some 5,700 Tweets per second, it cannot be ignored. Finally, Google + is yet another site that business owners need to know about. There are now over 400 million active users on Google +, and the site is adding nearly 1 million new users daily.
Social networks can be daunting. How do I get started? Can I market my business for free or do I need to pay to advertise? What types of information should I publish? Will my time and effort yield results? These are a few of the questions you will have as you begin building or expanding your social profiles.
Step one is setting up your personal and/or business profile on each of the four sites. Each will require your business logo, a short write-up of your business, basic contact information and the like. For Facebook, LinkedIn and Google +, you will likely want to set up profiles or pages for both yourself and your business. On Twitter, you can simply set up a handle for only your business.
Once the pages are live, determine how much you want to do. Observe what others in your industry are doing first. Are they publishing a lot of content? Are they engaging with prospects and customers? Are they adding paid advertising to their social marketing strategies?
A key value for Twitter users is the ability to follow others. Using a simple search, you can see who else is on Twitter – everyone from major news publications to other businesses to industry associations – and follow them. It's a great way to observe and use the site as a news syndication resource to stay on top of breaking news as it happens.
After your personal and business pages are live on LinkedIn, explore their more than 2.1 million groups. In the world of payments, I can recommend the following to get you started:
While all LinkedIn groups present different opportunities for networking and engagement, as well as the ability to post questions, news and updates, if you don't find exactly what you're looking for, you can also create your own group – open to the public or closed (invitation only).
At this point you will have information syndicated for you on Twitter and LinkedIn. "Liking" and "following" pages and individuals on Facebook and Google +, will round out step two of building your social presence.
Next up is connecting. For Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn connect with individuals you know. Using groups (Facebook) or creating circles (Google +) is a great way of separating personal and business contacts. You can also update your privacy settings to ensure that your posts are going to the people you want to see them. Definitely invite friends to "like" your page or "follow" your business pages, which will expand your presence and help grow your audience over time.
Once you have individuals and other businesses in your respective networks, determine what types of information you want to share. For some, the focus is on sharing news or original content, like a blog post or thought leadership piece (white paper, video or infographic, for example). For others, social networks are a great way to engage with customers to promote new features or services or respond to customer service inquiries.
Whatever your decision, don't get overwhelmed. Social marketing should be relevant and targeted, not forced. Share when you have something to share; otherwise don't. As you grow your social presence and explore each of the sites, determine what, if any, incremental value you could yield from paid advertising. The sites are all free, but they all offer advertising, so it's available.
Social networking sites are here to stay. They present powerful, cost-effective marketing opportunities. Businesses need to make sure they have a presence. In today's world, not having one would be like not having a website.
As Merchant Warehouse Senior Vice President, Sales, Michael Gavin is responsible for day-to-day management of the company's direct sales, as well as leadership of all sales activities within the company's agent channel. He has served as a key leader within the organization since joining the company in late 2000. Merchant Warehouse's Genius Customer Engagement Platform is a single, intuitive platform that integrates every transaction technology, loyalty program and more. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the company, visit http://merchantwarehouse.com.
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