If you're reading this, the likelihood is that you have already been subjected to a barrage of comment and advice telling you why small businesses should harness the power of social media. It's also likely that having signed up to numerous networks, you're still questioning the value that it can bring you as a small business owner.
Too often, conversation in the small business community has revolved around consumer-oriented social media. But by engaging with professional social networks and gaining a better understanding of the potential of the social web as a whole, it is possible to take a more active role in shaping the future of your online presence. Hopefully, in this article, I will show you how to enhance the visibility of your business and extract greater value from social media.
So, what exactly does the social web mean? It's a term that has come to incorporate the range of communication that occurs via social media and networks on a daily basis. So many of us are connected to any number of networks - be it a broad social platform, a business-oriented network or a micro-blogging website - that the notion of sharing has become second nature. Some may even argue that the concept of sharing has taken on a new meaning entirely.
Social media has become a dominant form of communication. Businesses are constantly being urged to embrace common social media practices if they wish to be at the forefront of their industry and remain relevant to clients, customers, business partners and even their own employees.
Building a presence on a large social network is a primary way of raising company profiles. We also encourage small businesses to engage further with the social web by creating partnerships with other companies, increasing interoperability between websites and integrating content into larger social networks.
The ease and extent to which small businesses will gain value from the social web depends very much on their willingness to collaborate with other companies and on the openness of programming platforms. Viadeo has just launched its own open API platform. Although it sounds quite complex, it simply means that we have opened our programming platform to make it easier for innovative developers and small businesses to integrate their services into our network.
To give an example of how open platforms can benefit companies we need only look to the relationship between Zynga - the company behind social games Farmville, Mafia Wars and many more - and Facebook. By using the open development platforms offered by Facebook, Zynga has been able to launch its games on the largest social network in the world, reach a huge audience, grow into a phenomenally successful business and add value to Facebook simultaneously. A win-win situation for all concerned.
We believe that similarly successful relationships can emerge in the B2B world. For this to happen it is important that businesses define their own space within the social web; a place where they can reach a more targeted audience with relevant content that brings value to users and businesses alike.
This is where professional networks can really come into play. Rather than directing business communication through your usual social channels, where it is more likely to get drowned out, professional social networks can act as dedicated and focussed hubs through which all relevant information can now flow.
One way of enabling this transaction of information is to build a functionality that will allow members of social networks to use their login details to register on external websites. Once connected to Viadeo, for example, small businesses have the opportunity to access the data of our 35 million members in order to create a more personalised and relevant experience when one of our users visits their site.
Ensuring that sharing and recommendation functionalities are also in place will allow users to spread the word about businesses by sharing content with their peers and driving new traffic back to business websites. Partnerships between social networks and businesses provide a better overall experience for users, increase engagement and revenue for businesses and add value to the social network.
Although the open web is undoubtedly the ideal that we all strive for we must be wary of the potential conflicts that can arise between companies. The open web and data sharing can only work satisfactorily if each company can bring value to the partnership and redirect that value, consistency and relevance towards its users. The social web is still in its infancy and issues of privacy and data sharing are still up for debate but in the meantime, the social web will continue to evolve and exert its influence.
Not only does social media help to flatten the internal hierarchies of businesses but it also gives smaller businesses the opportunity to compete with larger organisations on a more level playing field. If your business, product or service is worthy of being talked about, the social web will make it known sooner rather than later. Viadeo sees online business partnerships of the future being based on revenue sharing but only if all parties concerned can add value to the partnership and, most importantly, to the users.
The more you engage with the social web and allow others to engage with your business the more your stock - both figurative and literal - will rise. Ensuring that platforms remain open is the best chance small businesses have to take the helm and contribute to an ecosystem within which their businesses can excel and grow.