What is social networking and how can it help your business? Do you really need to use Facebook and Twitter? If you're unsure, read on for our beginner's guide to social networking.
Social networking explained
Social network websites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace allows users to interact with friends, relatives and colleagues over the internet via web pages, email or instant messaging.
Most social network websites allow you to find people or can search your contacts to make connections, putting you in touch with people you may not have spoken to for a long time, allowing you to find people with similar interests. Some websites such as LinkedIn are more focussed on business, some like Habbo are aimed more at teens, and others such as Facebook have general appeal.
The most popular social networking websites in Europe and the USA are currently (Feb 2010):
- Facebook - 350m users
- MySpace - 130m users
- Windows Live Spaces - 120m users
- Habbo - &0000000117000000.000000117m users
- Twitter - 75m users
From a business' point of view, the benefit of social networking is that you can reach a large number of people for a low cost, and it allows you to form meaningful relationships with your clients (or potential clients). Most business websites are generally a one-way interaction, but social networking allows your customers to ask questions, give feedback and recommend you to their friends and colleagues. Some companies offer technical support via their Twitter page (like Vodafone UK) while others use it to give special offers, or showcase products (such as the art gallery Cry Of The Gulls).
The disadvantages of social networking websites are broadly the same as the advantages. It allows your customers to make public comments on your business, good or bad, and if not managed properly allows staff at your company to make inappropriate statements (such as the recent Vodafone incident). It can take a reasonable amount of time to maintain a business presence on a social networking website, and it must be administered by a senior member of staff with excellent communication skills and a good knowledge of the internet.
How to get started
If we've piqued your interest and you want to create a page for your company on a social network website or two, we'd recommend starting off with Twitter and Facebook. Iteracy have both of these, you can find links to them in the top navigation (the F and the T icons). You'll need to dedicate at least a couple of hours a week to updating them, and you should have good spelling and grammar (or a spell-checker).
Start using Twitter
Twitter allows you to post messages of up to 140 characters, called tweets, to the Twitter website where anyone else can read what you've written. To sign up, go to https://twitter.com/signup and choose a user name that is as close to your business name as you can get. In years to come, a good Twitter name is likely to be as valuable as a good .com domain name.
Once you've signed up, find people you know - customers, friends, suppliers, family, and start following them. This means that you'll see any tweets that they post, and they'll usually start following you back, so they'll get to see tweets that you post. Then post your first tweet - it can be about anything you like, maybe your company has just won a new contract, started offering a new service, or maybe it's just a sunny day where you are. Read other people's tweets and you'll soon start thinking of other uses for it. Here are a few that we've seen recently:
- PR company Skyfield Communications tweet about new business and work
- SEO company Niddocks give information about courses that they are running
- Antiques shop DejaVuAntiques tweet about new pieces for sale
- Smallholding Gilbury Farm send out updates about life on their farm
- Film club Lost In Film encourage discussion about their recent screenings
You can also sign up for more than one Twitter account, one for your personal tweets and one for your business. If you want to manage more than one account, we recommend using a great website called HootSuite, where you can post to Twitter and Facebook at the same time.
Start using Facebook
A Facebook page is like a one-page website for your company which includes all of the features that made Facebook so popular like comments, photo galleries and user interaction. To make a new page for your business go to http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/create.php and complete the form (you'll probably want to select Brand, Product, or Organization on the first step).
Once you've made the page, go to Edit Page and complete all the sections, and upload a picture for your icon (such as your logo or your shop). Once you're happy that you've filled in all the information start posting messages, just like Twitter but there is no maximum length of message. Now start publicising your company!