Tuesday 13 April 2010

Part 1: An Introduction to Social Media

facebook can be beneficial to your business What is it?

Social media is an internet based platform that can be used by anyone to share and publish information (text, pictures, videos and music) and communicate (socialise and make new friends).

What can it do?

With over 400 million people using Facebook alone, the reach of social media in a commercial sense is huge, and can be used as part of a well-considered online marketing strategy. Social media can help your business by:

1. Generating interest in a new or existing product/ service.

2. Enabling you to interact with your target audience to assess their wants and needs.

3. Enhancing the quality and quantity of inbound traffic to your site (as part of an optimisation strategy).

Social media is an increasingly popular past time for many of us and has huge potential for commercial gain. So I would recommend incorporating it into your business model.

How can it work for my business?

When creating a social media strategy, there is no one-size-fits all template that can be created for your business. A strategy should be tailored to your business and its target audience. For example, an online clothes retailer would not apply the same plan as a media production company, because they both offer different services to different clients. I will discuss how a plan should be formulated in greater detail in part 2, but it is important to remember that some social media sites are aimed at particular groups of people while others are more appealing to a broader spectrum of people.

What types of social media are out there?

Essentially, there are three different types of social media which can be harnessed for commercial gain:

1. Publishing

One of the most effective ways of using social media to promote your business is through publishing content. You can publish content in the form of text, images and videos. There are a variety of mainstream social media sites conducive whose sole purpose is publishing content, and the great thing is anyone can publish information that can be read by anyone anywhere. Here are a few:

Flickr is an image and video hosting website. The site is used by over 4 billion people to share and embed personal photographs. It also has an online community which maybe useful to engage with users and develop contacts. Flickr is often integrated with blogs and social media sites like Facebook, to host images which are embedded in blogs and social media sites.

Youtube is a video hosting site where you can upload and share videos. It’s a great way to reach a wide range of people with video blogging short videos. There are many other types of publishing content, but that was some food for thought!

2. Sharing

The name says it all. Sharing social media sites are about sharing information with others. Here are a few.

Twitter is an information network, updated in real time by users all over the world. Users publish short snippets of information called ‘tweets’ which can be read by people following them. It is a useful way of sharing and discovering what is going on in the world now, and it’s not just for celebrities or ego-maniacs! Anyone can do it.

Stumbleupon is an intelligent add-on to your web browser which is used for sharing web sites. The Stumble Upon community submits and votes on web pages and then people visit based on the number of votes, so it can be a useful vehicle to promote your website. But getting a lot of votes is undoubtedly a challenge!

3. Networking

Networking forms are probably the most advantageous social media vehicle, with an incredible reach in terms of engaging directly with your target market, promoting goods and services, and advertising. So here are a few mainstream social networks, of real interest:

Bebo was until recently predominantly used by school kids and college goers. But in more recent times, there has been a shift by users toward Facebook. Hence Bebo, has seen a decline in its business and is expected to have the plug pulled on it by its parent company AOL.

Linked In has been used by businesses and professionals to network, it can be a great place to meet people in your industry or others in business that are of help or who are looking to purchase a product or service your business provides. It could be well worth signing up to investigate the possibilities for your company.

Myspace was on a similar level to Facebook and Bebo at one time, used by school kids and university students, but is now mostly used to promote music bands and artists. So not as powerful in a commercial sense as it used to be, but has still got advertising potential.

Facebook has traditionally been used by university students and young adults, but has now developed a much larger user base. Many of the kids that used to use Bebo, now use Facebook, so there has been a significant transition. Facebook now stands as the most powerful player in social networking, and has massive potential for businesses. I often encourage people to use Facebook to network with friends and customers, promote products and services and advertise to particular socio-economic groups.

That’s about it! Keep your eyes peeled for part 2 where we will look at how a refined strategy is being used by a business, how well it is being done and what can be done better.

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