Social networking has been one of the fastest growing sectors of the internet in recent years. These free to use community sites help consumers stay in touch with their friends, and are surprisingly addictive. The original first generation of social networking sites are now huge, and newer niche social networking sites for different audiences, interests and even geographic regions are now starting to emerge.
But many business owners still haven’t got to grips with how to use this powerful new audience to promote their business.
Most consumer-facing social networking sites allow you to create a profile page for your business; some are free and others will make a small charge. Your profile will usually include photos, a brief description, and contact details for your business. Some sites even let you set up a regular feed of news from your website, add message boards for users to comment on, upload videos about your business and send messages to your followers.
Once your profile is set up, other users can choose to become followers or friends of your business, either by finding you in search results, or virally by word of mouth. You can also promote your social networking profiles with a badge on your main website.
Once you’ve got a social networking profile, you can start to make use of this powerful new marketing tool, in a number of different ways:
Find new customers for your business:
Social networking can help you spread the word about your business. Social networking works by letting users share what they are up to with their friends, and because they are friends it is likely they’ll be interested in the same things as well. So when a social networking user becomes a fan or follower of your business, all their friends will find out about it as well, and this type of viral marketing is probably one of the most cost effective forms of marketing there is.
Communicate easily with customers or followers:
Most social networking sites allow you to contact users who’ve chosen to follow you. This can be a quick and cost effective way to stay in touch with people, and also avoids your emails being caught by spam filters as messages are broadcast within the social networking site. Of course you shouldn’t abuse this facility be messaging people every day, and so messages are best saved for genuine news and offers.
Promote your latest special offers or deals:
Social networking sites are a great environment in which to promote special offers or deals. Because social networking sites operate a ‘closed community’ you can send out better offers than normal which cant be seen by the rest of the world. This also makes it easier to track responses. And because social networking users are usually highly active, sending an offer to your group of followers can be a quick and easy way to drum up extra sales.
Carry out market research and get feedback:
Your own group of social networking fans and followers also gives you a ready made source of valuable research and feedback. If you’re planning to launch a new product you can see what your group thinks first, or you could just ask them what your business should be doing to improve. You’ll get surprisingly constructive and honest feedback from your followers, and they’ll be delighted to have been asked.
Publicise business events and occasions:
If your business is holding an event or a special occasion, social networking can help you publicise it in advance. This could range from a one day sale in a shop to a live event or gig in a pub or bar, or a special dining evening in a restaurant. Many people use social networking sites to organise their social lives anyway, so it’s a really relevant place to promote an event to your followers with a message or update on your page.
Give your business a web presence without a website:
If you don’t have a website for your business, you could even use social networking sites to establish a web presence instead. Most social networking sites make your business profile page visible to all web users and search engines, not just their own members. And there are plenty of social networking websites around to reach a surprisingly wide audience for little effort or cost.
Create and build groups or campaigns:
Social networking sites can help you mobilize and attract support for an issue or campaign which directly affects your business. For example, if you are campaigning to have the high street pedestrianised, or support local producers, start building a groundswell of support online on a social networking site. Word can spread virally and before you know it you could mobilise significant support.
Help your existing website perform better in search engine results:
Most social networking websites allow you to create a profile page, which can usually include a hyperlink back to your own website. Leave your profile page visible to the rest of world in your account settings, and it will soon be found by Google and other search engines, which will see the link as another vote of popularity for your site.
A special thank you to Peter Parsons of http://www.kent.co.uk the new local social networking website for business and consumer web users in Kent.
Picture: An overview of social media tools and services, including blogger, twitter and youtube. With thanks to FredCavazza for publishing on Flickr under a Creative Commons license some rights reserved.
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