Social Networking is Marketing

Can social media be used to market your company? Yes, print media and telemarketing are giving up a lot of ground to Internet marketing and social networking could be another nail in the coffin. Social media can be used for marketing, branding, and customer relations but is it really free? Not at all, anything that takes your time or an employee’s time is not free. You need to determine the cost and estimate the value in order to budget for this avenue of marketing.

The Twitter buzz: Here are some good starter tips right from the horse’s mouth, Twitter 101 a Special Guide. You can use Twitter to mingle and rub elbows, virtually. You can find out when people are talking about your company or products and services. You can respond to questions about your service and make new connections. You can provide a link to your Twitter account on your company website and blog and give customers a look at your personal side. In moderation you can use Twitter for SEO by linking to new product releases or blog posts but it should be a low percentage of your overall tweets. Twitter is not a great SEO tool, it’s Internet marketing.

Step back now and look at your business without the rose colored glasses. Are you really so big and popular that you need to watch for tweets about your company? Is monitoring Twitter going to improve your customer service? For small companies the answer is probably no so don’t buy in too deep. Stick with the things that will benefit you.
Do you really have something to offer, something to say, or something you can give away? If the answer is yes then start tweeting and building your social network. Spend a few hours per week building a network and offering something of value. Value may be found in humorous replies, interesting sub culture news, industry news, personal experience with a product, free samples, free work, or just be that person that lets others know someone is listening. You aren’t selling your services directly, you are marketing your company.
Remember, if your customers can’t get a reply to an email or a call back because you are too busy Tweeting then you have missed the point of Twitter.

We know Facebook is the cat’s meow for personal socializing but how is it for business? It’s not anywhere near as hot as Twitter for business but the water is warm. Facebook has a different set of rules for business accounts or pages. Should you set up a company page on Facebook? If you have the staff to use Twitter to its potential then you probably have the resources to maintain a company Facebook page so the answer is yes. If you are a small company and you are going to set up a facebook page and then neglect it as if setting it up was all you needed to do then no, you shouldn’t. If you have time to make new product or service announcements then it can be useful. Did you know you can run an ad campaign on Facebook?

Some other sites to consider are www.LinkedIn.com and www.MerchantCircle.com . Like Facebook, they will require some setting up and then maintenance but only occasional work is required. With both sites you need to build your connections and with MerchantCircle you can try adding coupons and get your customers to write reviews. That reminds me, Google Maps offers the ability to offer coupons and reviews too.

Blogging is probably the number one social media that can improve your visibility, build brand, keep customers informed, and it can be leveraged for search engine optimization. If you have a blog you should make it a unique host name like blog.[yourdomain].com or a unique domain name. I believe there is some value in your blog being a separate site rather than [yourdomain].com/blog. Don’t use free blog services for a company blog. You should treat your blog just like you do your company website and build something of value on a domain name that you own. Unlike Twitter where you will make connections almost immediately a blog requires marketing and SEO work the same as your company website. A blog has all of the marketing and social value of Twitter and Facebook and then some but it does require more work.

Should you use some of your advertising budget to advance your social networking? Social networking is marketing so you could justify this. You might want to take some of your print media budget and try hiring a copywriter to advance your blog until you have more time yourself or the staff to do it for you.

Email marketing, is it social networking? Yes, a newsletter is a very good example of social networking. Let people know what is new with your company, include customer success stories, contests or drawings, tutorials, you can even share videos. As long as it’s not all about a sale or laced with ads or buy now buttons then you are networking. If you are giving and not trying to sell then it’s networking. Like I said, networking is marketing.

That’s it, the basics. Smaller companies should not get caught up in the hype and neglect normal business operations. Do what you can now, grow your company and then you can increase the time you spend on social media when you have the time or staff to accomplish your goals.

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