|24/06/2009 - Does social network marketing work?|
A huge amount is currently being written about social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter. But is this just hype or can social networking become a serious business marketing tool?
Social networks are essentially online communities of people who share interests and activities. The ICT Cluster, along with other private and public sector organisations, is already feeling the benefits of creating a group identity and interacting with members of the group through services such as discussions, news postings, direct contact or instant messaging. The majority of social networks are free to use and are attracting millions of users so their power cannot be ignored.
One of the major benefits, in particular for small technology SMEs with limited marketing resources, is the opportunity to generate contacts and keep in touch with people simply and very cheaply. The right network can provide a source of potential business partners, suppliers, customers and employees. However, choosing the right network is essential and, once you become a member, participation is crucial. Communication with other members needs to be relevant and interesting or you can alienate people, therefore it needs to be handled thoughtfully.
One of the main applications to consider is business community LinkedIn. On joining, you can upload your email contacts list and LinkedIn will identify existing members and send them invites to connect to you. As well as being a great networking site, it has the potential to generate new business. LinkedIn Answers enables you to ask questions of your extended network including feedback on a product, recommendations for contacts or recruitment. Users can also join industry groups, including the ICT Cluster Group, to share information and exchange opportunities.
Twitter, the new kid on the block, works a bit like text messaging. Users choose which people or organisations (e.g. our group at twitter/wmidlandsict), they want to ‘follow’ or receive messages from. Messages, called tweets, can be up to 140 characters and are sent for general distribution or to a named individual. It’s a great way to let interested parties know important snippets of news or promote offers, share links to interesting blogs or comment on industry issues. Twitter users tend to be web-savvy so it’s important to be part of the community not just an information source.
There are a number of ‘consumer’ social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo. Users set up a profile which can include photos, message boards and links to favourite sites or videos. Facebook is the site which also offers an opportunity for business profiling. If your profile is the face of the company it’s important to keep it professional. Members can also join industry groups, such as IT Professionals and participate in discussion forums.
In these difficult economic times, the ICT Cluster, which is funded by Advantage West Midlands, believes that it’s worth taking advantage of any ‘free’ marketing tool, especially one as widespread and influential as social networking. To ensure its effectiveness, it needs to be treated seriously and incorporated into an existing marketing strategy. But beware, If managed incorrectly, it has the potential to damage your reputation instead of enhance it.