Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Marketing Your Website

We’ve all heard the term ‘social media’ but not everybody is fully aware of its meaning, the variety of social networks, what they do, or more importantly – how they can help your business.

What is social media?

Social media can be defined as internet based technologies that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content. It allows individuals, professionals and businesses to share their thoughts, beliefs, products or simply their favourite sandwich.

Which social network should I use for my business?

Not every network is suitable for every business, I am constantly being told by clients ‘I need you to create me a Facebook and Twitter page’, when I ask them why or what they plan to do with it I often hear ‘I don’t know’.

Facebook and Twitter are the biggest of the networks and are constantly mentioned in the media, around the dinner table and even in school playgrounds. Around 850 million people around the world have a Facebook account – that’s more people than the entire population of Europe!

When a marketing medium has that much reach you would be silly to ignore it, but only if you have an idea of how to use it – what can you offer your audience through Facebook and why would they want to ‘follow’ you?

There is no doubt that any business owner could benefit from a Facebook profile, IF they have a good idea that provides value to the visitor. If you run a shop, you could offer deals and discounts only available through your facebook profile, that’s an easy one. If you are a celebrity or a personality that has a following then keeping your fans up to date with your worklife, lovelife or even just general breakfast updates is also a no-brainer.

But how about if you run a local vets in a sleepy village with a population of 500, what could you put on your Facebook profile?

Any social media campaign should always begin with a goal, not necessarily for the social media platform itself but a goal for the business, and then work through the process that way, once you know your goal, it is much easier to decide on the right platform and also how you plan to achieve that goal.

Going back to the vet idea, if their ultimate goal is to attract customers from outside the local area, then they would think about how to encourage the outsiders to travel a bit further afield rather than using their local vets. As well as the obvious details about the animals and nice pictures of pets they could also push other local attractions or reasons to visit the area. They would try to gain the attention of their visitors through other avenues and then hit them with the ‘bring your pet to us for great service and price’.

Another important factor to consider is the time taken to keep these profiles fresh and relevant. If you run the business yourself, do you have the hours to spare on a weekly basis to update all the platforms you’ve chosen? If not then cut down the list of networks and focus on just one.

Having an outdated profile can have more of a negative impact on your brand than you’d realise. If you have a Facebook profile that hasn’t been touched for weeks or even months then it suggests one of two things, either the business is no longer running or they haven’t bothered to update it – nobody will think ‘they must be so busy running the business and keeping their customers happy that they don’t have any hours spare in the day to update their social networks’.

What are the popular social networks?

Certainly the biggest and most familiar network. Users register for an account and then create their personal profile with pictures and information about themselves. They can then exchange messages, pictures and videos with their ‘friends’. It also allows you to ‘follow’ or ‘like’ businesses or celebrities and stay up to date with their activity. For good examples of a Facebook page for business take a look at Macys or Clictu. From a business perspective it allows you to update your followers on a regular basis with any news or offers that will entice them back to your website or perform an action.

The second biggest of the networks with around 175 million users, this network allows you to post a ‘tweet’ which is a way of you letting your followers know about your current mood, latest product or breaking news in no more than 140 characters. Users see the ‘tweets’ of everybody they follow in chronological order with the most recent appearing at the top of the webpage.

LinkedIn is the largest of the professional networks with over 120 million members. It allows you to connect with your contacts and helps you exchange knowledge, ideas, and opportunities within a network of professionals. As with Facebook, it allows you to create a profile of yourself but from a professional perspective, so its great for pimping your services or expertise.

Definitely the new kid on the block, Google+ is closer to Facebook than any of the other networks in terms of features, whether it will be a real competitor is anyones guess, although with Google’s power and reach, it certainly will give it a good go. It allows you to create a profile and then share your thoughts, pictures, videos and connections with anyone in your circle of friends.

The place to visit on the web if you want to see a video of anything, I mean literally anything, if you want to know how to wipe a cats bum then there is a video for it! Although the majority of the videos are added by individuals showing off their talents or obscurities, it allows a business to add value to their brand with videos or guides of their products or services.

Common uses of the top social networks

For those of you more familiar with the networks, here is a funny take on the purpose of the more popular ones:

Facebook – I like donuts
Twitter – I’m eating a donut
LinkedIn – My skills include donut eating
Instagram – Here’s a photo of my donut
Pinterest – Here’s a donut recipe
Last FM – I’m listening to ‘donuts’
Google+ – I’m a google employee who eats donuts
YouTube – Here I am eating a donut
Foursquare – This is where I eat donuts

Last bit of advice…

If you take anything from this article, please think about your business goal and then think how you can best achieve that, is it with photos on Flickr, regular updates on Twitter or a combination of the two on Facebook. Then think about where the hours are coming from for you to do this work.

Ultimately, please don't make the common mistake of thinking 'if I build it, they will come', because they won't, unless there is something in it for them!