While covering a handful of ways to utilize social media's mass popularity in terms of business and networking, this page is broken down into three parts:
Born to Communicate
As social creatures, the methods we use to communicate have changed enormously over the centuries. In 1792, Claude Chappe demonstrated the first real telecommunications system of the Industrial Revolution by using a series of towers with moveable arms to communicate signals during the French Revolution. In the early nineteenth century, Samuel Morse helped to make the telegraph a reality.
By 1861, research was being conducted on the conversion of sound into electricity and then back into sound. Pioneering research by Johann Philip Reis paved the way for the invention of the telephone. The development of the Internet in the 1960s and the invention of the PC modem in the 1970s set the stage for the explosion of information-sharing technology and the rise of social media.
Today, we share stories, send information, conference with business partners, and connect with new people using the Internet and social media. But what is social media anyway?
It took 38 years for radio to reach 50 million listeners, but only nine months for Facebook to reach 100 million users.
Social media is the growing collection of Internet-based services that allow you to create and share content with others.
While traditional media like television and newspapers require many resources to create and distribute content, social media shifts the focus to blogs, instant messaging, and community sites that are relatively easy to use and cost significantly less.
Social media now enables the budding musician, the up-and-coming poet, the technology consultant, and the commercial realtor to all produce and distribute relevant content to a global audience. It allows companies to communicate with their consumers, not at them. It quickly brings people from all walks of life together to aid a country devastated by a natural disaster. All of these things and more can be achieved with social media.
Integrating Social Media with Your Goals
There is much debate about the usefulness of social media, yet each year, millions of new people discover it and dive in. Sarah may be merely curious about how to stay in touch with family on Facebook while Marta may be steadfastly determined to promote a new business on Twitter. Tom may want to contribute his knowledge of carpentry through a blog. Boris may want to connect with other salespeople in New York through LinkedIn. Each has a different need that requires a different social media strategy.
Shakespeare's play As You Like It is best known for the following quote:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
Know Your Role
As Shakespeare notes, we all have different “parts” or roles during the course of our lives, and with each role comes a different type of social need. Think about all of the different types of people in the world and the connections you have with them. Are you a mother, a friend, or an acquaintance? Are you a CEO, a celebrity, or a scientist? The roles you play will not only shape your social interactions but also determine how to best incorporate social media into your life.
1. Define the roles you wish to play. If you primarily want to use social media as an artist, for example, you'll have a different strategy than someone who wants to use social media as a realtor.
2. Understand your goals. It may be tempting to make this the most important point, but in most cases, your goals will derive from your roles. If you're a mother, your goal may be to maintain close contact with your children. If you're a celebrity, your goal may be to show the world that you're a caring human being. If you're a realtor, your goal may be to stay in touch with past clients and create new sales leads. Your goals can be general or very specific.
3. Learn about the strengths and weaknesses of each social media platform, especially if you're not familiar with them. Once you do this, you'll gain a better understanding of how to merge your goals with social media tools. Without understanding the purpose, advantages, and disadvantages of each tool, you may waste your time and resources.
For example, imagine that you're going to open a local bookstore that mostly sells used books. However, you want to emphasize that you can also order new books for customers and offer a variety of music and social events. Optimally, you'd like to advertise your bookstore locally and also discuss ideas with other small business owners. What's the best way to meet those goals?
A site like Twitter has the advantage of being time-based. Information spreads quickly and can be used to drive traffic to a small business, informing customers in the real time of news and discounts. But Twitter information has the disadvantage of not being very permanent. Due to the constant flux of information, keeping tabs on older information can be difficult. Twitter can be useful for the new bookstore, but it's not a complete solution.
Instead, you may decide to incorporate the real-time nature of Twitter with a blog, posting sales, events and interesting news on Twitter every day while posting videos, photos, and important business information on your blog. In addition, you may join LinkedIn, a social media site for professionals. At LinkedIn, you can connect with other small business owners through the site's many group listings. LinkedIn may not drive more business your way, but it may help you network with like-minded professionals.
4. Link your goals with social media platforms. Perhaps you want to spread the word of a new book you're trying to publish. You know that Facebook has global appeal and the ability to make Facebook pages which are useful for fans and businesses. You've done your homework and realize that Facebook pages need to have traffic to gain more fans. By understanding this aspect of Facebook, you can link your goals with the right social media tools. In this case, incorporating a Twitter account may help to drive new people to your Facebook page.
5. Provide regular updates on the social media services you've chosen. You may only update once a week or maybe once a day. Don't let it overwhelm you; but whatever schedule you decide on, be consistent. Set aside a certain time of day or a day each week to post a blog update, send a tweet, or follow a conversation. Find a balance between meeting your goal and keeping it fun.
Here are a few other things to consider when enacting your plan social media plan.
1. Know your intended audience. If you don't engage with a relevant audience, you'll be defeating the purpose of social media. Your audience will be very different depending on the roles you play, the goals you have, and the content you provide.
Rock stars (the role) have fans (the audience) following their every word on Twitter, perhaps leading them to post tour updates (the content), providing a good social image of themselves (the goal). Scientists, however, may have colleagues and advisors with whom they must share research results, expanding universal understanding of a particular topic. In both cases, there is a defined audience.
2. Create interesting content consistent with your goals. Content that diverges from your audience's expectations may cause your audience to dwindle, although it's fine to occasionally include something that doesn't strictly focus on your goal. Consistent and relative content is key.
3. Remember that your content doesn't market itself. If you want a bigger social media footprint, you're going to have to market your content. The amount of effort you put into marketing your content will be determined by your goals.
If you're in a particular industry or profession, consider reading and posting to other people's blogs. Take time to mention someone from your audience or a person that inspires you while writing content for your blog or tweet. Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups relevant to your content. Post videos of your activities on YouTube. Speak at conferences and events or create an organization to spread awareness about the subject of your content. Depending on your goals, many of these suggestions will go a long way towards marketing your content.
4. Respond to and interact with your audience, whether it's over the Internet or in person. While it's great to receive comments on your blog posts or replies to your Twitter messages, it feels just as warm and fuzzy for your followers to receive a response in return. It lets them know that you care, building a greater sense of community.
As you work with social media, don't be discouraged if you don't see immediate results. In this new world of social networking, trial and error are the norms. If one strategy doesn't work, simply try another until you find a strategy that works for you.
Social Media Netiquette
When we're out in the real world, interacting with friends, family, co-workers, and strangers, there are unspoken rules that guide us. Yet as we move our social interactions online, especially to social networking websites, do the same rules of etiquette apply?
Typically different rules of netiquette apply depending on the site.
These differences are because each site has different functions, goals, and demographics, resulting in a different culture on each site. For instance, Twitter focuses on the sending of brief text messages and has a diverse demographic audience. On the other hand, LinkedIn focuses on keeping businesses and professionals connected and has an older and more educated demographic.
Here are a few rules of netiquette for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, the most popular social networking sites.
Many of these rules could easily apply to sites like YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest. When joining a new social media site, take some time to observe other users before jumping into the conversation, and you’ll learn how that site’s culture differs from others.
Asking a stranger to become your friend without a proper introduction is generally discouraged. Generally, Facebook users only friend people they have met in person. If you want that person to join your network, explain the reason and who you are.
Facebook is a useful platform for keeping up with what’s going on in your friends’ lives and sharing what’s happening in yours, but keep in mind that there is such a thing as too much information. Constant, unpleasant, or offensive updates can be an annoyance and cause people to block or unfriend you.
Posting uncomplimentary pictures of friends and tagging them can lead to problems. Employers and police officers have been known to review social networking sites, so be sure to ask permission when in doubt. Do you want to be responsible for a buddy losing a job opportunity?
Accepting every friend request isn't necessary. Some people are selective about who they want viewing their personal information. If you're worried about rejecting someone, leave the request alone. You may learn more about the person later and decide to accept the request.
Using your personal Facebook account to market a book, software, or any other product is frowned upon. If you want to advertise, create a Facebook page and invite your friends to join. (Remember, don't pester them!) Pestering your friends to join a fan page, group, cause or application will likely only result in annoyance, not new members. Send the invitation once. If they don't accept, drop it.
Linking your Facebook account to your Twitter account can be tricky. If you're not careful, you may spam your friends' newsfeed with too many messages. If you're an avid Twitter user and can't control the flow of messages to Facebook, unlink the two.
Failing to maintain a full and accurate profile leaves others doubting your professionalism. Provide a full work history and explain what kind of work you're doing currently.
Asking strangers to connect with you just so you can tap into their list of connections is a questionable tactic. Admittedly, there may be times when you want to connect with someone from a specific company and must go through their connections to get there. That's what the introduction process is for. If you feel strongly about connecting with a stranger, take the time to write a message indicating the reason why, or connect with them via another medium first. Many business people will ignore connection requests if you don't make present a convincing case.
When participating in groups, seek to contribute to the discussion and keep self-promotion to a minimum. Inviting members to a group outside their field of expertise will typically end in failure. Don't bother with this tactic unless you want to be ignored by the LinkedIn community.
Asking for a recommendation from a connection who you don't know well is a waste of time. A half-hearted endorsement is easily spotted and is counterproductive. Be cautious about your recommendations of others. Although you may feel obligated to write a recommendation in return, only do so if you can be honest in recommending the person.
Making a new connection only to send a sales pitch disguised as a “thank you” note is sneaky and tarnishes your reputation.
Learning Twitter's slang and the use of hashtags is recommendable. The more you understand how to properly use them, the less likely you'll be to embarrass yourself.
Stating your message in 140 characters or less can be challenging, but take the time to spell properly and minimize abbreviations, which can confuse your message. Contrary to popular belief, spelling and a clear message count.
Following a user that follows you is optional. Don't feel that you must follow everyone that follows you. At a minimum, look at the profile of the person before you decide. If their “following” count is significantly greater than the “followers” count, it's probably best to leave well enough alone, since that can be an indication of a fake or spam account. Other red flags include a blank profile or image or offering to exchange followers for pay (which is against Twitter’s terms of service).
Constantly promoting yourself and your work will cause you to lose subscribers quickly. Strike a balance with the occasional tweet of your product or service, a steady stream of relevant and interesting content, and interactions with other users.
The occasional request for a retweet is acceptable, but repeatedly requesting to have your information retweeted is annoying. If your followers find your content interesting and relevant, they will retweet it.
Using Twitter as your conversion tool can be tricky. The occasional reply using “@” is fine, but holding a lengthy conversation using the tag isn't acceptable. To continue the conversation, you can try using direct messages, or move to another medium such as email.
Blogs, forums, and social news sites like Reddit and Quora are all places where you can ask questions, leave comments, and interact with others. Keep your comments relevant and limit criticism to the constructive to avoid flame wars.
Show Some Emotion
The lack of visual and audio cues when communicating over social networks causes us to do things we might not normally do in person. Consider prefacing your actions with the question, “Would I do this in a face-to-face relationship?” By doing this, you reaffirm that you're communicating with a living, feeling human being over a relatively emotionless medium.
It's also useful to include emoticons (keyboard characters that represent faces) to provide a clearer interpretation of words. They're particularly useful for expressions of sarcasm or humor that are difficult to detect without tone of voice or physical expression.
The Psychology of Online Interaction
You may have already observed that you and your friends interact differently online than they do in person. Significant research has given us a clearer picture of the disinhibition we often show from behind the facade of our computers.
This online disinhibition effect is essentially the removal of social barriers and restrictions that would normally occur during face-to-face encounters.
But why do we act differently on the internet? Why do we experience disinhibition? According to Dr. John Suler of Rider University, a number of factors contribute to this difference in behavior. When it comes to online communication, we tend to lose the visual and auditory cues that help us decode the intent and meaning of a message.
This disinhibition can be particularly prominent in the realm of social networking, which is based entirely on social interaction. On Facebook, for example, it's common for strangers to make friend requests without an introduction, a practice frowned upon with face-to-face encounters. While the rules of etiquette should also apply to social networks, disinhibition may cause us to forget that. It can also be a factor in cyberbullying since bullies don’t see the effects of their actions when played out over an online medium, and it doesn’t seem quite as real or consequential – though, to their victims, it certainly does.
As social interaction increases in cyberspace, it's important to realize the impact our words can have. Without the visual or auditory cues we take for granted in the real world, we may forget the humanity of those who read them. Social netiquette provides useful rules to avoid offending other members of our virtual community.
Social Media for Business
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that more consumers and business are participating in social media than ever before. More than one billion people will be active on Facebook today, and 500 million tweets will be sent on Twitter. During the next hour, 5 million photos will be uploaded to Instagram, and 3,600 hours of video will be uploaded to YouTube. Overall, approximately 74% of all internet users are active on at least one social networking site.
Just because everyone is rushing to use social media, doesn’t necessarily mean that your business should be using social media. It’s good to look before you jump. With that in mind, what exactly are the potential benefits of social media to your business?
Benefits of Social Media
While many businesses are participating in social media, they aren’t all doing the same things or getting the same results. The reasons why businesses participate in social media are varied, and include things like:
- Understanding and targeting customers more effectively: Social media sites are able to provide demographic info about customers that is more detailed than what most businesses have ever been able to acquire before.
- Finding new customers: With the number of people involved in social media, by using paid ads, and creating highly shareable content, businesses are getting in front of many new customers.
- Improving the search engine ranking of their website: When website content is posted on social media, and then shared by other users, valuable backlinks pointing back to the original website are built – a sure way to improve a website’s performance among search engines.
- Sharing new content quickly: Pairing a great business blog, with an active social media account is an easy way to get new content in front of customers quickly.
- Generating new leads: Sharing content that points back to a website, and converting visitors into email list subscribers is a great way to build new leads using social media.
- Creating stronger relationships with customers: Businesses that are active on social media develop a dialogue with their customers. This dialogue provides faster feedback from customers, both positive and negative, and puts a human face on an impersonal organization.
As you consider becoming active on social media, it’s important to know which social networks offer the most value for your business. To help you make that decision, here are basic profiles for the seven most popular social networks:
Every social media conversation has to begin with Facebook. It’s the largest social media network and is more versatile than many other social networks. What types of businesses should be on Facebook? All of them.
Twitter is the social network that will keep you in touch with the pulse of culture. Twitter’s strength is in connecting people in real time, and it is often used by businesses to foster interaction between customers and the customer service department.
Virtually every business can gain value by being on Facebook and Twitter, and B2B companies should also be active on LinkedIn.
Virtually every business can gain value by being on Facebook and Twitter, and B2B companies should also be active on LinkedIn.
If your target demographic skews female and is interested in fashion, food, and DIY projects, Pinterest is a social network you should strongly consider joining. Not every brand needs to be on Pinterest, but if you want to share visually anchored content to the female demographic, Pinterest can’t be beaten.
Another social network that every business should join is Google+ (pronounced Google Plus). However, don’t join Google+ planning on having lots of interaction, the real benefit to joining Google+ is to improve search ranking.
While a lower percentage of users interact with their LinkedIn profile on a daily basis than what is seen for many other social networks, it is considered the best place to make connections with business professionals and offers the highest lead conversion rate. So if you’re in a B2B business, it’s critical that your company and key employees be active on LinkedIn.
YouTube is a site dedicated exclusively to sharing video. Like Instagram, it’s an ideal platform for posting media which you then re-post to other social networks. Consider joining YouTube if you want to share video content in a format that is easily accessible and shareable.
Don’t Confuse Social Media with Content Marketing
It easy to get caught up in the interactive aspect of social media. Posting status updates and interacting with customers is great and can be good for your business. However, it’s important to remember that social media will have the biggest impact when you’re sharing compelling content – blog posts, pictures, and videos – that drives traffic back to your website, where you can turn that traffic into leads, and eventually convert those leads into satisfied customers.