“Are you taking advantage of Web 2.0?” This question has been circulating throughout the business world regarding the online world of mass collaboration and consumer-generated content. Web 2.0 is redefining public relations, marketing, communications and branding for businesses worldwide.
Nielsen’s 2009 Global Faces and Networked Places report states that two-thirds of the world’s Internet population visits a social network or blogging site, and the sector accounts for 10 percent of all Internet time. “Consequently, the global media and advertising industries are faced with new challenges around the opportunities and risks this new consumer medium creates,” the report states.
Ken Reaser, a partner at Spin Six Strategic Marketing Design in Scottsdale, agrees. “People’s opinion is going to be out there,” he says. “You can attempt to influence it, but you can’t control it.”
Gabriel Shaoolian, founder of New York-based Blue Fountain Media, says social media can be tough to navigate at first, but once a company starts talking to its customers, “that dialogue is priceless. The persistent nature of online interaction means that (social media) has the long-lasting effects of traditional advertising, but the immediate interaction means it also has the revenue-driving power of traditional sales.” However, Shaoolian cautions that social media marketing is not for every business or marketer — but its impact is hard to ignore.
Businesses are all at some level of using social media networks, says Anthony Helmstetter, a partner at Spin Six. “Some are using it for reputation management, where social media is used as a function of customer service,” he explains. “However, 90 percent of the businesses out there will not stop using other marketing outlets.”
Forrester Research released its five-year forecast in July 2009, which states that spending on interactive marketing in the United States will reach almost $55 billion and represent 21 percent of all marketing spending by 2014. The report shows that social media spending alone will increase to $3.1 billion in 2014 from $716 million in 2009, representing a compound annual growth rate of 34 percent — the highest percentage gain in the marketing mix. This spending activity ranks social media as the third most prominent program behind search marketing and display advertising.
“Social media has its place, and we do find it to be a helpful tool, but only when it’s used correctly. … Be cautious with it.”
— Ken Reaser, partner at Spin Six Strategic Marketing Design in Scottsdale
The following is a look at the top social networking sites on the Web:
Link it Up: Optimizing LinkedIn for the Business Owner
LinkedIn helps people manage and make connections with other industry professionals, and expand beyond boundaries companies have been unable to reach. The site is relatively easy to use and provides a helpful breadth of information, as well as multiple ways to expand small businesses.
Mashable, an online social media guide, posted “How to Build Your Company’s Profile on LinkedIn” in August 2009. Adam Ostrow, a regular Mashable commentator, writes that LinkedIn separates itself from other social media networks with its company profiles. Company profiles allow a business owner to provide potential candidates with a lot more information about the company and the people who work there.
Here are Ostrow’s tips on how to set up a company profile:
- Go to the “Companies” menu on LinkedIn. Select “Add Company.”
- Enter the company’s basic information, such as a description, number of employees and industry in which it operates.
- Follow LinkedIn’s wizard for creating your company profile, which allows you to add a logo, locations and feed for your company blog/newsletter.
LinkedIn will pull data about your company from around the Web site to further enhance the company profile that already has been established. For example, all of the company’s job listings will show up automatically on the profile, along with links to profiles for current, former, new hires and recent promotions regarding company employees.
Inovedia Marketing provides several tips for small business owners when utilizing LinkedIn, such as:
- Connect with customers and vendors.
- Improve a company’s image by requesting LinkedIn recommendations from happy customers.
- Answer LinkedIn questions to build the company’s brand and promote it within the LinkedIn community.
- Keep track of all contacts. You never know when you’ll need them.
- Test a company’s ideas by joining marketing groups and utilize the “Start a Discussion” feature to act as a focus group.
- Connect with fellow small business owners and find multiple small business resources.
All of this aggregate data about the company provides potential candidates information to determine if the company is a good fit for them. If a company is concerned about the information available online, LinkedIn does allow edits to the company’s basic profile information.
According to Ostrow’s post, LinkedIn recently added a premium product, Custom Company Profiles, that allows a business owner to add more features such as videos about the company, positions, interactive polls and several customized options for recruiting. Ostrow adds: “These are worth considering for larger companies (they come at a price), but for small businesses, a basic LinkedIn company profile should be enough to add lots of efficiency to the recruiting process — both for candidates and for you.”
Face Off: Putting a Face to Your Business through Facebook
Facebook has become the largest player on the global social networking stage. In September, the company announced it had 300 million active users.
“Based on a simple design, broad demographic appeal and a focus on connecting, Facebook has become the most popular social network measured by Nielsen Online.” — Nielsen’s 2009 Global Faces and Networked Places report
Facebook started out as a service for university students, but now one-third of its global audience is aged 35-49 years, and one-quarter is over 50. In July 2009 alone, Facebook attracted 87.7 million unique visitors in the U.S., which was 14 percent higher than the previous month, according to comScore. In absolute terms, Facebook added about 10 million new visitors in July 2009 versus roughly 1 million new visitors for Twitter.
In August 2009, Facebook purchased FriendFeed for just under $50 million, which cost one-tenth as much as Twitter would have, had Facebook gone through with its plans to purchase the site.
So how can businesses capitalize on this growing social network empire? HubSpot, an inbound marketing system specifically for the Internet, published a report called “How to Use Facebook for Business.” The report outlines the difference between Facebook Profiles and Pages — the latter being specifically for business use.
- Facebook Pages allow a company to designate multiple administrators to help manage the account.
- Pages are by default made public and will start ranking in Facebook and public search results, and engines such as Google.
- Pages are split into different categories to help the company get listed in more relevant search results.
For companies worried about privacy, Facebook is flexible in letting administrators control a business’ exposure. The creation of a Page is very similar to a user profile, except that you choose a category (i.e. brand or product) and a name for your Page (usually the company’s name). Once the creator is done setting up the Page, be sure to hit “Publish” to make it public.
Ken Reaser, a partner with Spin Six, strongly warns Facebook users to keep their personal profiles separate from their company pages. “You are now becoming a participant in a community where you no longer have control — be cautious,” he says.
There are various ways to promote company Facebook Pages, such as leveraging the viral nature of Facebook via the news feed, drawing on the administrator’s personal existing network, making the Page publicly searchable, and using Facebook Ads for an extra push, according to HubSpot.
Other areas Facebook excels at include:
- Facebook Groups: Similar to Pages, but meant to be built around a group of people rather than an individual business or a brand.
- Applications: Developers may write software to help promote a business on Facebook.
- Polls: Marketers can use them to get quick answers about a particular feature, or find out information and opinions from specific demographics.
- Facebook Connect: Helps integrate a company Web site with Facebook.
- Facebook Ads: You can choose a specific demographic target, see how many people that demographic will hit and advertise to that demographic.
This point spotlights the biggest challenge for Facebook — turning its network into a revenue-producing mechanism. In 2008, Facebook earned around $300 million in ad revenue compared to MySpace’s estimated $1 billion. MySpace has primarily become an entertainment site. In September 2009, Facebook said it achieved positive cash flow for the first time since its founding six years ago.
Still, the fact that content supplied by the social network’s members is of a highly personal nature creates a Catch-22. The personal data is potentially one of the network’s most valuable assets, yet it provides a major obstacle in generating revenue as members see highly targeted ads as an invasion of privacy.
“If Facebook were a country, it would be the 8th most-populated in the world, just ahead of Japan.”
— Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, January 2009
A Birdie Told Me: Utilizing Twitter’s Real-Time Potential
The first reaction many people have to Twitter is bewilderment, which matches the reason for the name of the micro-blogging site.
“Twittering is the sound birds make when they communicate with each other — an apt description of the conversations held on Twitter,” says site co-founder Biz Stone on the Twitter 101 site. “Every day, millions of people use Twitter to create, discover and share ideas with others. Businesses can use the outlet to quickly share information with people interested in the company, gather real-time market intelligence and feedback, and build relationships with customers, partners and other people who care about the company.”
Evan Williams, Twitter’s CEO and co-founder, says that in the best cases, Twitter makes the public smarter, faster and more efficient. However, not everyone believes in the Twitter-hype.
Anthony Helmstetter, a partner at Spin Six Strategic Marketing Design, says Twitter, despite being hot right now, sees a less than 40 percent retention rate after someone has had an account for 30 days.
“What this shows is that this exuberant hype is short-lived,” Helmstetter explains. “What Twitter lacks is a ‘sticky’ component. There’s nothing to make people keep using it.”
He clarifies that Twitter is better for real-time information, but not to build legacy content. But that’s not stopping major brands across the nation from tuning into the world’s mind. Mashable’s commentator Ostrow reported in August 2009 that big brands are embracing social media, with Fortune 100 companies selecting Twitter as their choice of venue. According to recent study by the global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller:
- Among Fortune 100 companies, 54 percent have a Twitter presence, 32 percent have a blog, and 29 percent have an active Facebook Page.
- Of companies using only one of these tools, at least 76 percent of them choose Twitter.
- Of the Fortune 100 companies on Twitter, 94 percent use it for news/announcements, 67 percent for customer service, and 57 percent for deals/promotions.
- The average Fortune 100 Twitter account has 5,234 followers. The median is 674 followers.
- Many companies are simply avoiding blogs and going directly to Twitter instead.
One of the most well-known brands on Twitter is Starbucks. According to the Twitter 101 Web site, Brad Nelson tweets on behalf of Starbucks Coffee, and says he “loves” the 140 character limits for tweets. He manages it through a third-party application called TweetDeck that allows him to group his followers and see everything at once, from DMs (direct messages) and replies to searches and trending topics.
What a company chooses to post about depends on its goals for using Twitter.
“Listen regularly for comments about your company, brand and products — and be prepared to address concerns, offer customer service and thank people for praise,” Twitter’s co-founders say. But most importantly, don’t spam people.
“There’s the idea that social media is free, but it’s not free,” Spin Six Partner Ken Reaser says.
He adds that businesses looking to go into social media, especially sites such as Twitter, need to be consulted as to why they want to get involved, what their goals and expectations are, what they want to get out of it, how much money they have budgeted for it and the cost to manage it.
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