Social media for businesses

According to research carried out in March 2008, almost 60% of internet users had joined a social network - a figure which had doubled in just two years. There's no doubt social networking is here to stay, and the good news for businesses is it's a great way to spread the word easily, virally - and best of all, for free.

What is social media?

  • Social media can be defined as web-based media which allows its users to enter a dialogue with one another. This can be through the sharing of images or videos, sending messages to one another or simply writing articles which other users can alter or which allows others to post comments at the bottom.
  • The range of social media sites is enormously diverse and span services such as Smarta, Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, any sites which allow users to create and maintain a blog, and thousands more. They can be very specific - social networks designed for those in a particular industry or with a particular passion, for example - or they can be more general.
  • Consumers are at the forefront of social networking. As a result, they're switching off to older types of media and the messages they deliver. 90% of people who can skip TV adverts do so regularly. A measly 18% of current TV ad campaigns are generating positive ROI. 86% of consumers distrust adverts.
  • Social media is more democratic than the internet in general because unlike services such as search engines, where you can pay SEO experts to boost your site's ranking or buy AdWords and appear the top of search results, there's no way of buying your way to the top. If other users don't like your message, they'll make their voices heard - and there's no way of you preventing them from doing so.

How to use social media

  • Because social media users are constantly generating new content and engaging in new conversations, it's a great way to monitor what your customers think of you. You can spot trends and get free feedback without having to spend money on expensive - and irritating - customer feedback surveys.
  • Before you jump straight in, start by doing some research. Monitor public opinion by signing up to Technorati, which monitors blogs for keywords; Google Alerts, which send you an email every time a word you've requested is used on a news site or blog; and look up keywords on Twitter Search. Set up alerts for your business' name, as well as the names of competitors and anything else you think is relevant.
  • Join the conversation only when you're sure you know what people think of your business. For instance, setting up a www.twitter.com account will allow you to engage in direct, real-time dialogue with customers, but remember to answer people as well as promoting your product - and don't make the same mistake as furniture company Habitat, which alienated customers by engaging in some unscrupulous practices.
  • The goal is to boost your business' profile rather than engage in any direct selling, so make sure you fit in to the social network or type of media you're using. This means using the correct tone of voice, and site etiquette.
  • Remember, social media was set up to allow users to chat to each other - so a chatty, light tone rather than a pushy, marketing-led voice will engage users and endear them to your business.

Checklist

  • Social media allows its users to enter a dialogue with one another
  • Social networking is consumer-led
  • Social media is democratic: if other users don't like your message, they'll make their voices heard
  • It's a great way to monitor what your customers think of you
  • Doing your homework using services such as Technorati and Google Alerts
  • Join the conversation only when you're sure you know what people think of your business
  • The goal is to boost your business' profile rather than engage in any direct selling

Jargon buster

Apps/Applications: a 'web app' is a computer program designed to be accessed through a web browser. Social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn have built-in apps.

Bebo: a social network targeted at teenagers which allows users to create customisable profiles, or individual web pages containing personal information pages and share messages, videos and photos with each other.

Blog: contraction of the term 'weblog', a blog is a sort of online journal with regular, chronologically ordered articles

Facebook: the web's most popular social network, allows users to create profiles, groups and event pages. Friends can write public or private messages to each other and share photos and videos.

Flickr: photography-based social network which allows users to post and comment on one another's photos.

LinkedIn: business-focused social network which, like Facebook, allows users to create profiles, posting personal information including career and professional history and connect to other users.

MySpace: one of the first popular social networks, MySpace is now more directed at musicians and performers and allows users to create customisable profiles and share photos, music, videos and messages.

Twitter: micro-blogging service which allows users to provide 140-character updates answering the question 'what are you doing?'. Users can 'follow' each other but unlike other social networks, it isn't automatically reciprocal.

WordPress: one of the most popular blog creation websites.

Widget: a chunk of code, usually small programs such as clocks, which can be installed into any web page.

YouTube: video-sharing network which allows users to upload and share their video footage with others.

Resources

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