Over the last few years, social networking has become an important business tool in communicating with customers and the public at large. While the technology is still developing, social networking allows people to share various types of content online and to form relationships for personal, political and business use. It transforms the traditional media relationship from monologue (one to many) to dialogue (many to many). Also known as user-generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM), social media has already taken over many of the roles that advertising, publicity and public relations have traditionally played. Why is this happening? Well, take a look at some numbers:
- LinkedIn has more than 40 million users. Sixty percent of them report a yearly income of over $100,000.
- FaceBook has more than 200 million active users. More than 100 million users log in at least once a day. And astonishingly, more than 5 billion minutes are spent on FaceBook each day.
Are you participating in the new social media? With so much activity now focused on it, you can’t afford to be out of the loop. That is why, according to eMarketer, 63% of US companies are increasing their social media budgets in the coming year. But many people — especially those, say, over the age of 40 — are scratching their heads, trying to figure out what’s the deal. What exactly is social networking? How do you start developing a social networking program? And what are the benefits of doing this?
Let’s start with the last question first, because the answers should motivate you to start paying more attention to the new medium. Here are some of the basic benefits of participating in social networking.
- It gives you a direct way to communicate with friends, colleagues, customers and prospects anywhere. A message posted online can spread with viral speed to thousands, even millions of other people without you lifting a finger or paying a cent.
- Rather than spending money to gain access to potential clients, your product or service can be discovered by people who already want what you have to offer.
- Social media offers you an unprecedented platform upon which to build your brand and, if done right, it can generate business opportunities that you haven’t even considered yet.
- Social networking lets you get quick feedback on your business (and your competition’s business). If you respond promptly and transparently to the comments you get, you can build credibility and generate even more business.
Let’s now chart a few components of the new media landscape. Social networking is most commonly used as a means to communicate, as, for example, in blogs or on Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, MySpace or Meetup. You can collaborate with others to create wikis such as Wikipedia; you can share opinions on epinion and bookmark interesting news or sites on Digg. You can share photos on Flickr or videos on YouTube. You can even enter complete virtual worlds — which, in terms of complexity and interest, compete with the real one — on sites such as The Sims and Second Life.
Nothing this complicated could be without its downsides. Here are some – but not nearly all – of the biggest problems that businesses face in working with the new social media.
- It can take up an enormous amount of time.
- Anyone who is frustrated with or wants to hurt your company can inflict damage by posting negative comments online. You can respond quickly, honestly and convincingly but there’s no way to fully erase the harm done.
- Because security and privacy are moving targets in the cyber-world, there is always the chance that someone could hack into your account or site. Malicious trouble-making could range from spamming your list of customers to stealing their information.
If you are new to social networking, the range of tools and options might seem overwhelming so here is a little advice to help you get started.
Figure out what you are after.
Companies sometimes start a social networking campaign without knowing what exactly they are trying to accomplish. It is important to define your goals before you start. Put in the effort upfront to figure this out. Get help if you need it.
Take a long-term view.
It takes time to launch a social media program and it takes time to start getting results. If you don’t understand this, you can get discouraged and drop your efforts with the idea that social networking is just not right for you. But when you consider that most major companies are making huge investments to build their presence online, you should recognize that the benefits are probably there for you as well. You just need a stronger plan and more time.
Have more than one person actively involved.
If there is only one person involved in planning and updating your program, burn-out looms as a big risk. Get more people from your company to participate — this will ensure that your content stays fresh and up-to-date.
Next week, we’ll look at how to measure the return on investment (ROI) in social media.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Social media offers new opportunities to activate brand enthusiasm.”
Stacy DeBroff, Founder and CEO of MomCentral.com
© 2009 – 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.