Think social networking sites are only for those looking to reconnect with old high school friends, date or broadcast what’s happening in their lives? Think again. Recent research indicates more and more executives and managers are utilizing sites such as Facebook and Twitter for business purposes.
According to a May 2009 survey conducted by NFI Research, approximately 75 percent of senior executives and managers indicated they use the networking site LinkedIn for business purposes. Furthermore, 26 percent of respondents indicated they use blogs for business purposes, while 22 percent use Facebook and 18 percent use Twitter.
Though social networking sites are being utilized by sole practitioners, large firms (such as KPMG and Deloitte) and all other businesses in between, NFI Research’s study states that more small companies take advantage of social networking sites as opposed to large companies. This trend may be due to the fact that unlike larger firms, smaller, mom-and-pop shops do not always have a significant amount of funds set aside for advertising. Conversely, many small businesses gain more than half of their customers via word-of-mouth advertising. As such, social networking sites prove to be an attractive advertising strategy for small business owners, as these sites are free and provide the opportunity for information to be quickly disseminated to a large number of people.
According to Chuck Martin, CEO of NFI Research, “The true opportunity for social networking is with small businesses.” He continues by saying, “A small business tends to be faster to move. The move into social networking can easily start at the top. The small business does not need an army of employees to deploy the tech platforms. Additionally, the small business owner tends to have a good understanding of their customers and their customers’ needs, which can be translated into social networks.”
If you are new to the social networking scene, but have decided you would like to begin exploring what social networking sites can do for your small business, it might be helpful to gain an understanding of what each site is about and what it has to offer. The following list highlights some of the most popular social networking sites.
Facebook is a social utility helping individuals communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers. The company develops technologies that facilitate the sharing of information through the social graph, the digital mapping of people’s real-world social connections. Facebook originally began by connecting students through social networks at schools, but has since expanded its services to include the general public. The site was formed in 2004 by undergraduates at Harvard, led by Mark Zuckerberg, as an online version of the Harvard Facebook. Anyone can sign up for Facebook and interact with the people they know in a trusted environment.
With approximately 200 million users— and its recent surge past MySpace in monthly unique visitors, according to Web analytics firm Compete, Inc.—there is no doubt that Facebook is a social networking giant. With Facebook, you can establish an account and profile for your business, connect with others to share information about your company and create groups or fan pages for a particular product or service your business offers, for example. Groups and fan pages also prove to be very useful when notifying users of company events, special offers, etc.
MySpace, along with rival Facebook, is one of the leading social networks on the Internet with approximately 130 million users worldwide, according to Hoover’s, Inc. It offers a variety of tools and features for users to connect and stay connected to friends, relatives and other MySpace users, including blogging, video sharing, instant messaging and music streaming. MySpace was founded in the fall of 2003 by Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe. According to Hoover’s, Inc., it operates today as part of Fox Interactive Media (FIM), the digital media division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
Like Facebook, MySpace provides business users the opportunity to create a profile, connect with other interested parties and post news about their company. Though, the two sites differ greatly in appearance. MySpace profiles are all unique and provide users the opportunity to incorporate a variety of colors, personal photos, etc., while Facebook profiles are clean and uniform. MySpace also differs from Facebook in that it offers music applications (such as the ability to add music to your profile) and a blog feature.
LinkedIn is an interconnected network of experienced professionals from around the world. LinkedIn’s Web site states the company has grown to reach more than 45 million users in some 200 countries since its inception in 2003. LinkedIn is free to join; it also offers paid accounts and sells advertising.
According to LinkedIn’s Web site, when you join, you create a profile summarizing you, or your company’s, professional expertise and accomplishments. You are then able to form connections by inviting trusted contacts to join LinkedIn and connect to you. Your network is comprised of your connections, your connections’ connections and the people you know, linking you to a vast number of other professionals and experts. LinkedIn’s Web site indicates that through your network, you can:
- Manage information that is publicly available to you as a professional,
- Find and be introduced to potential clients,
- Create and collaborate on projects, gather data, share files and solve problems,Be found for business opportunities and discover potential partners and
- Gain new insights from discussions with likeminded professionals in private group settings.
Twitter is a free Web site that blends social networking with the ability to post short messages (or micro-blogs) limited to 140 characters or less—these short messages are commonly known as “tweets.” Tweets are designed to be accessed on mobile devices and through the Internet, where they are posted to a personal Web page that can be restricted to select viewers or viewed by anyone. Twitter differs from instant messaging in that viewers do not reply to Twitter postings. With Twitter, those interested in you or your business can choose to “follow” you by searching for your name. According to statistics published in April 2009 by eMarketer, Twitter has approximately 12 million adult Internet users. Industry experts indicate that Twitter serves as a great way to keep your name in the forefront of user’s minds.
Before establishing a presence on one or more of the aforementioned social networking sites, it is important to examine some of the industry’s pros and cons. In a USA Today article entitled “Strategies: Which social networking site is best for your small business?” Rhonda Abrams identifies a few of social networking’s advantages and limitations. They are as follows:
- Similar to real-life networking, social networking sites allow you to connect with not only your loyal customers, but also many new people.
- Social networking sites allow you to get the word out without an intermediary.
- Social networking sites provide you the opportunity to establish yourself as an expert in your field.
- Social networking sites help you stay on top of your field and your competition.
- Maintaining a presence on one or more social networking sites can be very time consuming.
- It is important to keep in mind that many of your competitors may also be utilizing social networking sites.
- Just because you have established a connection with someone on a social networking site does not mean that individual will convert to a paying customer.
If you haven’t already taken advantage of social networking services, you owe it to yourself and your small business to at least consider what Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn or Twitter could do for your company. Though, keep in mind that in order to reap any benefits from these sites, you must maintain an active interest in your social networking presence. Discover the benefits more and more business executives and managers are receiving from social networking services.