Sections Supplements

Social Media Marketing and Web 2.0

What Are They, and How Can They Help You Bring in More Business?

Simply put, social media, or Web 2.0, is a communications tool. Wikipedia, the Internet’s most popular encyclopedia, describes Web 2.0 as a means to “…enhance creativity [and] communications, secure information-sharing, [and augment] collaboration and functionality of the web.” It encompasses several online tools that help you develop relationships that may facilitate new business opportunities.

These tools include LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, YouTube, and a host of others. They are the online version of working the room, and can potentially spread your brand message to many people for free.

Social media provides tools that can introduce you to people who may become valuable resources. These people can be tapped for advice, assistance, or collaboration. It also helps professionals build relationships that can evolve into business opportunities that may not have presented themselves otherwise.

Let’s be clear right from the start: social media does not replace face-to-face interaction. It augments and creates new opportunities to meet people and demonstrate your expertise, and it may position you as the solution to your prospects’ problems by raising awareness. It can open new doors and put you in front of a whole new potential client base.

But social media marketing may seem a bit too new and foreign, and some professionals may be uncomfortable about experimenting. They may fear that their reputations could be compromised. Perhaps it would help to review the most popular social media tools.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is an environment where people display online resumes that detail what they can offer to employers and people in need of someone with their skills. The basic premise behind LinkedIn is to connect with a diverse group of professionals with varying skill sets, so when someone searches for an individual who does what you do, they will find you. In-network results (those of your connections) display first, so it is to your advantage to have as large a network as possible.

Your LinkedIn profile provides an opportunity to display the best resume you could possibly draft. It is much more powerful than any traditional paper resume because it is readily available for anyone in the world to view 24/7. In fact, the more progressive job applicants are now providing a PDF of their LinkedIn profile instead of a traditional resume because it contains much more information and includes recommendations from people familiar with their capabilities.

The strongest LinkedIn profiles thoroughly detail your skill sets, employment history, educational background, recommendations, interests, and activities. They present this information in a way that makes you appealing to a potential employer or business prospect. The best LinkedIn profiles use words that are chosen carefully to convey not only what you do, but what potential customers can get when they hire or engage you.

LinkedIn also provides an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise by answering questions in your field and contributing to group discussions. The possibilities are virtually without limit and can really set you apart when a potential employer compares you to a competitor.

Facebook

Facebook is a more socially oriented environment than LinkedIn. While LinkedIn presents an opportunity to establish professional connections, Facebook presents a platform to reconnect and interact with friends. It helps to re-establish relationships. According to iStrategyLabs, “Facebook’s 35- to 54-year-old demographic segment not only continued to grow the fastest, but it [accelerated] to a 276% growth rate over the past 6 months, [from June 18, 2008 to Jan. 4, 2009.] That demo is doubling roughly every two months.” Currently there are about 7 million Facebook users in that demographic.

Facebook is very personal. It has a communications component that allows instant messaging, space to write public messages, and an opportunity to post photos. It also includes many silly applications, such as the ability to pass virtual drinks to your friends. Facebook makes it easy to search for long-lost friends by your specific high school and college, sorted by year, and it is not uncommon to reconnect with people whose names you haven’t uttered since graduation.

A word of caution, though — think very carefully before meshing your professional network with your personal life on Facebook. You may regret having professional connections read something from your college roommate about, “Remember that time when we…?” It is possible to segment groups and hide information from particular group members, but that may be more work than you are willing to undertake.

Twitter

Twitter is a micro-blogging application that allows 140 characters to get your entire message across. It teaches you how to condense your thoughts and compress your words to economize precious space. Most of all, Twitter provides an incredible opportunity to build relationships with people who you would probably never meet in any other circumstance. But how can that happen in 140 characters?

On Twitter, you follow and are followed by fellow Tweeters. That makes Twitter unique in the fact that it is a 100% permission-based marketing tool. People make personal decisions to follow you based on the quality and variety of your Tweets (messages), and they can ‘unfollow’ you with a click of a button.

People use Twitter to share news and ideas, collaborate, ask advice, and build professional and personal relationships. However, it is not acceptable on Twitter to soapbox about your own company, product, or service. In fact, that is the quickest way to be unfollowed. Generally, people publicly Tweet a mix of information from their industry, current events, and breaking news, re-Tweets of other people’s information, and personal information. They also Tweet messages directed to specific individuals on the public timeline for all to see, as well as private messages when discretion is needed.

An additional benefit is that many companies are on Twitter. This is rapidly becoming one of the most efficient means to monitor chatter about your brand. Comcast has done this very successfully. When someone Tweets a complaint, @ComcastCares knows about it and takes appropriate action. Ford, Dell, and Lands’ End are additional examples of companies that have recognized the incredible potential to build, repair, and maintain their brands by monitoring and responding to Twitter chatter. Twitter is becoming a powerful customer-service tool.

At first glance Twitter may appear confusing, but when you jump in and start engaging in conversations with people, you will probably find it to be a fun way to build relationships with people you wouldn’t have an opportunity to meet in any other way.

Blogs

A blog is an online publishing tool. It provides an opportunity to communicate ideas, passions, or interests. Search engines love blogs because, in contrast to static Web sites, blog content is constantly updated and continually fresh. Blogs allow a platform for people to demonstrate professional expertise, share information about their interests, collaborate, and report about their own lives.

It is possible to have a Web developer design a custom blog that is integrated right into your Web site, but there are several alternatives that make it easy for do-it-yourselfers to get going. Blogger.com is a free, Google-owned blogging platform, and TypePad is a popular paid blogging platform. WordPress is a very popular open source platform, and there are plenty of people who specialize in developing custom blogs in this format.

There is no best solution that suits everyone’s needs, so it is advisable to do a little research and/or tap into your LinkedIn or Twitter network for advice.

One of the really great things about blogs is that, like Twitter, their readership is permission-based. Unlike E-mail marketing, of which much is considered spam by the receiver, blogs can be subscribed to and syndicated, so readers can regularly receive updates that they may read at their leisure. This can be done through an E-mail feed or an online tool that keeps blog posts separate from E-mail.

Podcasting

Podcasting is simply adding audio or video files to your Web site, blog, or other electronic distribution method. It gives people the opportunity to hear your voice and experience your expressions and eloquence rather than just read your words. A podcast can be subscription-based, syndicated, and downloaded automatically when new content is added, so it is a convenient means of distributing information. Podcasts can then be played on iPods and other MP3 players, making it very convenient for listeners and viewers to hear your message on the go.

YouTube

YouTube’s tagline is “Broadcast Yourself,” and that is an accurate description of what it is. YouTube has taken the world by storm and created instant cyber-celebrities out of ordinary people. It is an online space where anybody can upload any video for the entire world to see.

An interesting, evolving use of YouTube in this challenging economy is for uploading video resumes. People are creating mini-documentaries of themselves that highlight their skills and expertise. These range from simple homemade versions to elaborate, professional productions. It is becoming increasingly common for job seekers to link to their YouTube video resumes from their LinkedIn profiles. This offers potential employers additional insight into the creativity, eloquence, and skills offered by candidates.

One of the most significant advantages of social media is the viral potential. People tend to share information that they find appealing, helpful, amusing, or educational, so social media offers many free branding opportunities for yourself and/or your business. People communicate daily through various social-media tools with others that they perceive to be valuable members of the professional community. They build relationships and share resources. They regularly hire from within their social-media networks because they feel a confidence and trust.

Social media can be perceived to be a brave new frontier or intimidating and confusing. There are many advantages to sampling the above tools as a means of expanding your professional circle. It is possible to develop relationships virtually, and millions of dollars of business is initiated daily through these tactics.

How much longer can you afford to let your competitors use these tools while you sit on the sidelines?

Christine Pilch is a partner with Grow My Company and a social-media marketing strategist. She trains clients to utilize LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social-media tools to grow their businesses, and she collaborates with professional service firms to get results through innovative brand strategies; (413) 537-2474;

linkedin.com/in/christinepilch;twitter.com/christinepilch;growmyco.com; “Miracle Growth for Your Company.”

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