Ever heard someone say: “in my industry, people don’t use social networking”? Or worse yet, have you ever said (or thought) something like that yourself?
The reality is that today, people in virtually all industries are using social networking, and the phenomenon continues to grow each week. According to a recent study by marketing agency Prodo, 86% of consumers today believe companies should incorporate social networking into their marketing. That means that many of your customers – if not most of them – are ready and waiting to interact with your business by using social networking!
Social networking can be especially powerful for small businesses, regardless of industry. It is a great way for your business to stay top-of-mind with customers and prospective customers, and delivers your message to a highly-targeted audience. Social networking also helps make your business more visible and easy to find online, which is typically a goal for most small businesses today. Since it is relatively easy and inexpensive to add social networking to your marketing mix, why not give it a try?
Make the Commitment
One of the key things to remember about social networking is that you must be prepared to spend a few minutes a day on your social networking profiles or accounts. However, you don’t need to do anything elaborate or time-consuming – just add a quick post about something pertinent to your customers, or possibly re-use your most recent coupons or other marketing materials as posts for your various profiles.
There are probably hundreds of social networking sites out there, but for small businesses the best bets are the current “biggies” – Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. For now, these are the sites that seem to have the most benefit for businesses and are getting lots of attention as small business marketing tools. To get started, you may want to try setting up profiles on each of these sites:
1. Facebook (www.facebook.com) – To get started with social networking, Facebook is a good place to begin. Just go to the site and create a profile for your business, filling out as much information as possible. The more complete your profile, the better. On Facebook, there are two types of profiles available: personal (or individual) and business. Personal profiles get connected with “friends”, but business profiles get connected with “fans”. When you post comments to your Facebook profile, they show up on your “wall”, which is one of the basic features of a Facebook profile. Other basic profile features include tabs for Info, Boxes, Events, and Photos.
You can experiment with some of the more advanced features on Facebook like Facebook apps, RSS feeds, or custom tabs if you have the time and skills to do so, but at least get your business description, logo, and contact info added to your profile. Then, make sure your friends and employees visit your Facebook profile and become fans. That way, you can begin publicizing your profile and using the viral nature of Facebook to get the word out about your business.
2. Twitter (www.twitter.com) – Twitter is a unique micro-blogging tool that lets users communicate with “followers” in quick text messages of 140 characters or less called “tweets”. A Twitter account can be useful for sharing new information with your customers, promoting special offers, or sending links for coupons and other money-saving offers. Be careful, though – your followers don’t want to be bombarded with sales pitches or blatant promotional messages. Always tweet valuable information to your followers, and provide them with information that they will welcome and can share with their own network of friends and contacts.
To get started with Twitter, go to the site and set up an account for your business. As with Facebook, make sure you fill out the profile for your business as completely as possible. Your business information will display in the right-hand column of your Twitter “home” page, so you want this information to be thorough. The main part of the page displays a running list of the tweets that you’ve sent to your followers, as well as any tweets that come from the people and businesses that you are following.
Businesses are also finding that Twitter is a great tool for customer service, since they can instantly respond to any issues or problems that show up. Customers are impressed with this type of immediate response from businesses, and businesses can benefit from the excellent PR opportunity that results, since others in the “Twittersphere” also get to witness how responsive you are to your customers!
3. LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) – LinkedIn is an online business networking site used mostly by professionals. Until recently, you could set up only individual profiles on LinkedIn, but now the site has added the ability for businesses to set up business profiles as well (although this feature is still in beta). This site is great for connecting with co-workers past and present, and is also quite useful as a job resource site for individuals looking for jobs, as well as businesses looking for employees.
On LinkedIn, users make connections with their friends and colleagues, and also have access to the people with whom their connections are connected. This can be especially useful for getting an introduction to someone you would like to do business with. You can look through your network to see how the person is “linked in” to the people you are connected with, and the site provides tools for requesting a formal introduction using your connections.
To get started with LinkedIn, you need to first set up an individual profile with your own business information. But from there, you can create a business profile for your company that can be used to network with your current friends and colleagues. Because of the viral nature of the site, your business information will spread naturally as you participate in connecting with others, asking questions or posting answers, and taking advantage of the many other networking features that the site offers.
As you can see, social networking is becoming a powerful marketing tool for small businesses. It is fairly easy to do, and it costs nothing but your time to set up business profiles and then use them to communicate with customers, create additional visibility for your business, and reach countless new prospects using the viral nature of these web sites.
Even if you are not currently a social networking user, the statistics continue to show that your customers and prospects already are. And as the study from Prodo revealed, 86% of consumers today think that you should be using social networking as part of the marketing mix for your business. So if you are still tempted to think that “in my industry, people don’t use social networking”, you may want to think again. Don’t get too wrapped up in what it is or how it works; instead, consider the possibilities of what it can do for your business, regardless of your industry.
Lauren Hobson, President of Five Sparrows, LLC, has more than 16 years of experience in small business technology writing, marketing, and web site design and development. Five Sparrows provides professional web site and marketing services to small businesses and non-profit organizations, giving them access to high-quality services at affordable prices. To read articles or subscribe to Biz Talk, please visit www.FiveSparrows.com/biztalk.htm.