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Social Networking -- What Is It And Why Your Business Needs It

Michele Pariza Wacek
Aug 31, 2007
You may have heard these terms bandied about and wondered what exactly they are and (more importantly) what they mean for your business.

So let's dig right in and get some answers. First, some definitions.

Social networking is actually a pretty broad term. It basically means any type of relationship-building amongst a group of people with a common interest (business or personal). However, that term has taken on a whole new dimension online, where social networking sites (MySpace, Linked In, Facebook) are popping up faster than you can say "Will you be my friend?"

These Web sites are designed around helping people network and build relationships via online, instead of the more traditional face-to-face networking meetings.

Which leads us to Web 2.0. No, it's not a technical upgrade of the Web (I can hear all the sighs of relief as people everywhere realize they don't need to be downloading or learning new software). Rather, it's a new way to use the technical aspects of the Web to build better relationships with people. So it includes blogging, podcasts, social networking sites, video, webinars, etc.

Actually, what it really is is a shift in mindset. Rather than using these tools because they're cool new tech gadgets, we're using them to bring a more human element to the Web.

Now social marketing is used interchangeably as social networking, but that's actually a misnomer (according to Wikipedia). Social marketing is an old term, which refers to marketing for the good of society or for social causes and has nothing to do with any of this.

So, back to social networking. This is wonderful news for business owners out there because it fits right in with how customers buy. Namely, people buy from people they know, like and trust. So building relationships using Web 2.0 techniques is a fabulous marketing strategy.

And many Web 2.0 techniques are either free or very low cost. All the social networking sites have free accounts (some have paid upgrades, but it's still low). Podcasting can be free (or you can pay a very low fee to do the recording via the phone). Blogging can be free. You get the picture.

Now there is a downside. The downside is it does take time. So if you're already feeling overwhelmed and frazzled, yes this could feel like another huge to-do on your list.

Which is why I'm going to tell you right now not to go there. There is help. Virtual assistants (also known as VAs) can assist you with these social networking tasks. Also, some marketing professionals offer social networking packages to do it all for you, so you don't have to manage it or even learn much about it. In other words, you don't have to go at it alone!

And you also don't have to spend hours and hours on these tasks either. Pick ONE thing to do, then spend 1-2 hours a week on it. Once that's mastered, than add a second task. (Or get it into a system so you can outsource it and then bring on a second task.)

Obviously the more time you (or someone on your team) can devote to social networking, the faster you'll see results. But I don't want you to beat yourself up if you don't have a lot of time to do it or money to outsource. Do what you can and let the rest go.

The other thing to keep in mind is it also takes time to start seeing results. None of these techniques is for immediate results or a quick infusion of cash. These techniques are long-term strategies. They're very effective, but they'll take some time.

As for what to start on first, that's up to you and what appeals to you (and what you think will appeal to your target market) but I'll give you a quick summary of a couple of the major ones along with pros and cons:

1. Blogging.

Pros -- This is a terrific way to build traffic to your site. My blog gets a tremendous amount of traffic and much of that spills over to the rest of my site. Plus, I have a Wordpress blog, so it's built into my Web site and it comes with RSS and pinging and everything else a good blog should. (Did I mention it was free?)

Cons -- You need to do some writing. And it does take time. (Either yours or someone on your team.) You should plan to post at least a couple of times a month -- more is better.

2. Podcasting. (Podcasting is like having your own little radio show, except the audio is downloaded into an iPod rather than broadcasted.)

Pros -- This is a terrific way to add credibility and build trust with your customers. Audio, especially when listened to on a podcast, is very intimate. You end up building a tighter bond with your customers than through reading alone. Adding audio to Web sites has been shown to increase conversion rates. (I.e. more people will buy when there's audio involved.)

Cons -- Time (you got to make time to do your podcast, and once you start, you need to do it regularly). This is also a bit more technical than blogging -- you need to upload it to your site, to podcast directories, etc. Unless technology comes really easy for you, I would suggest finding someone to help you out (at least to get you started). And if you have a really dreadful voice I would think twice about doing a podcast.

3. Video.

Pros -- Like audio, adding video to your site is great for increasing conversion rates. It adds a level of intimacy and helps your customers feel like they really know you.

Cons -- Technical and time. For audio, all you need is a phone. Video you need a camera, a video editor, etc. Of course, once it's done, you can use it in a lot of places, but getting it done may feel overwhelming.

4. Social networking sites. This is fast becoming a great way to find customers, form relationships and drive traffic to your site. However, before you dive into this, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, there are some 200 social networking sites out there and I'm sure that number continues to grow. But, MySpace enjoys a whopping 80 percent of that traffic. So it only makes sense that 80 percent of the time you're devoting to social networking sites should be devoted to MySpace. And don't think MySpace is just for kids! I've only been playing around with it for a couple of weeks and I've already made some pretty good connections, plus I've noticed a spike in my traffic and sign-ups for my newsletter. My friend Nancy has as great primer on how to use MySpace for business purposes.

The other two social networking sites I'm on are LinkedIn and Ryze. What I like about those two is they're more focused on business, plus they don't take a lot of time (so they fit nicely in the 20 percent of my time for the other sites). MySpace can be a time sucker, so just be aware of that.

Pros -- Great for building relationships and appears to be good at driving Web traffic.

Cons -- Takes time (Sensing a pattern here?) Also it's very easy to waste a lot of time on MySpace as well.

My suggestion is to pick one of these techniques to start with, do it for awhile and see what happens. If you start seeing leads and results, stick with it and maybe add another one. If it looks like it's not worth it (takes too much time and you're seeing too few results) try another.
About the Author
Michele Pariza Wacek helps people become more successful at attracting new clients, selling products and services and boosting business. To find out how she can help you take your business to the next level, visit her site at http://www.michelepw.com.
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