Social media is all the rage right now. You see it in blog posts everywhere. You see Twitter feeds on news shows. In the last month my mother and several uncles joined Facebook! Simply put, social media is all over the place. But is it useful for the average business?
While not all businesses will use social media the same way, I am convinced that all businesses can make good use of social media. Here are 4 ways any business can benefit from using social media.
1- Get to Know Your Audience
About a year ago I went to Blog World Expo, and one of the points that really stuck with me from that conference is this: use social media to find your audience and then hang out with them. Social media is full of groups, fan pages, and other things that make it relatively easy to find an audience that is already interested in your topic or industry.
But with all of the different social media sites, how do you find out where your audience is hanging out? Here are a couple of resources you can use:
- Use search.twitter.com to see what people are talking about that relates to your topic/industry. See what they're linking to and mentioning. This can lead you in the right direction.
- Get a Facebook account if you don't have one already and look for relevant groups and fan pages. Watch for multiple groups/fan pages for the same topic, and also watch to see how engaged the members are.
- Forums are more old school, but they can be great for finding other sites that people are using to hang out. In the end it may be the forum itself is the hangout, or they may direct you to other places.
Once you're confident that you've found the popular hangouts for your industry start engaging with your audience. For many businesses Twitter and Facebook are great places to start since they are so universal, but you'll also want to look for the niche hangouts.
2- Managing Your Reputation
Social media is a great way to keep an eye on the conversations that are happening online and respond to them. In fact, many companies have employees dedicated to watching the online conversations about their company and addressing them.
Here are a few tools you can use to monitor your reputation online so you can take any appropriate action:
- Once again, you can use search.twitter.com to keep an eye on any conversations going on in the world of Twitter that relate to your brand.
- For general monitoring of sites, news, and blogs you can always set up Google Alerts for your brand and main keywords to see what is happening online.
- For monitoring blogs specifically, you can use Technorati or Google Blog Search. Both can help you monitor what bloggers are saying about your brand or industry.
- If you're really serious about tracking your reputation you could get an account at Trackur. Their pricing isn't bad and it can be a great solution for companies looking to check in on the conversations happening online in a quick and easy way.
Watching and managing your company's reputation is one way that every company can and should use social media. If you notice negative conversations happening you can respond and put out any fires before they get out of control.
A great example of this is Comcast's use of Twitter. They have turned their Twitter account into another extension of their customer service division. For some great stories about this just do a Google search for 'Comcast twitter'.
Promotion is nothing new to the internet, but it hits new levels with social media. If you push the right message through the right channels you can reach a lot of people.
The key here is that you have to already have a lot of connections, especially with people that are willing to push the information to their followers as well. Twitter's Retweet (RT) feature is very useful for this. If someone finds a story, blog post, or promotion interesting, they can just pass it on by doing a simple Retweet.
To be successful in promoting things through social media you have to have a plan and connections. Just sending out a tweet to your 30 followers won't cut it.
Here's another great article about using Twitter for advertising: Is Twitter Really an Effective Internet Marketing Tool?
4- SEO and Traffic Benefits
Being that we're an SEO company, I naturally have to talk about the SEO and traffic benefits of being involved in social media. Social media can be a great traffic generator. Admittedly, it doesn't always generate the kind of traffic that will convert into a lot of sales but it does increase buzz, recognition, and authority for your site.
Social media is also a great way to have a lot of links built to your site. As a page is promoted on different networks people are going to be linking to it. These links will include tweets, bookmarks, and even blogs. All of these links can help improve the authority of your site and lead to higher rankings in the search results.
Putting it All Together
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, not all businesses will use social media the same. But the fact is that all businesses can take advantage of social media in one way or another. Here are a few places to start:
- If your site doesn't have a blog, you should start one. Blogs are where you'll generate the content to be promoted on the social media networks. It is also a great way to interact with your customers.
- Start a Twitter account. Having a Twitter account will give you a place to interact with your audience and also promote the articles from your blog and from other sources that you find interesting. You don't want to be a Twitter spammer just pushing your own stuff. Show that you can be part of the community.
- Create a Facebook fan page. Facebook is one of the giants in the social media sphere, so you need to have a company presence there as another way to promote your content and interact with your audience.
- Set up profile pages on a few social bookmarking sites such as StumbleUpon, Digg, and Delicious. This will give you a place to create links to your content. Make sure you also bookmark other content from your industry. Also make sure to create links back to your site in your profile.
There is always more that can be done, but these are four places to get started. For additional reading, here's a great case study from Business.com on how they have been using social media: B2B Social Media - The Business.com Case Study.