It’s hard to believe that the trend to establish an online presence for businesses has been going strong for over 10 years now.
Nowadays, if you have a small business and you want to be more successful online and ultimately more profitable, you have to have a website that looks trustworthy, easy to use and professional.
It seems to be deja vu. Just like company websites were the “big new thing”, social networking is also gaining in popularity. By the time 2020 rolls around, SMEs will be just as prevalent on social networking sites as they have been on the internet.
The time is right to master these new business models, marketing techniques and strategies.
In essence, using social networking, small businesses can get more free exposure. This makes it easier to talk to new and existing clients directly, plus increase and improve the quality of referrals and traffic to their existing websites.
The most common social networking sites for business are Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter.
Social networking hasn’t been around very long. It’s based on the principle of online communities that form based on common interests. These groups can continue to expand, as members network in turn with other communities.
Social netowrking site Twitter gets 6000 more corporate signups every day. In 2009 it was estimated, by UK telecoms company O2, that more than 700,000 small businesses use this micro-blogging service.
500 small businesses were polled in the study.
It was determined that 17% of them used Twitter, and 25% of those got started with social networking in the 30 days prior to taking the study.
Of those surveyed, almost 30% said they had saved up to ??1,000 on advertising and marketing since creating social media accounts. A significant 16% claimed that they had been able to save up to ??5,000. That’s good news for business struggling with fixed overheads and sales reduced by the current economic uncertainty.
Simon Devonshire, O2’s chief of small business marketing, said: “The increase in small businesses using converged devices such as smartphones combined with the simplicity of Twitter represents a fantastic opportunity to further raise their profiles and increase efficiency”
SMEs can benefit greatly from social networking, according to Chartered Institute of Marketing research head Mark Stuart.
“Firstly, they are a very cheap, fast and effective way to reach new customers if you use them in the right way. If you’re targeting Generation Y; teenagers and young adults, then it’s important to identify ways communicate with them that they want to be communicated with, and that means using websites like YouTube and Facebook to reach them.”
“You can also create a presence by setting up a group application for your company, or create a profile page for the business the same way an individual would. People will add you as friends if they like what you do; you then have a free advertising platform.”
Companies can experience vast growth and customer recognition and improved loyalty by getting website referrals through these social networking sites and services. Social recommendations provide a window on your business credibility and can encourage new customers to get in contact with you. Companies can update their social media profiles to link to their website and campaign landing pages.
If you want to get a lot of natural links, just sign up for social media and link back to the home website of your business. Adding information about company into your social media profile is a good idea. It enables you to show prospects and customers exactly what you can do to help them and what you’re all about.
Make sure you include a physical address and contact number, so that internet customers can see there is a real organisation behind the networking “face”. This is a key part of getting new customers to “know, like and trust you” an essential part of increasing online sales.
It’s important you make your business look approachable and dynamic by providing regular, relevant updates to customers. Don’t let your profiles gather dust – that’s equally as bad for business as not having them in the first place.
I urge you, if you run a small business, to do a little bit of research into social networking and see how it fits into your planned marketing efforts.
It need not be onerous. At first it can seem like another tidal wave of information crashing over you, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Many online and offline tools can help you manage your social media profile with ease. There are scheduling tools that control when you publish information. There are tools to follow trends and managing the responses you receive. At the touch of a button, you can monitor the types of follower you have and the online communities they belong to and much more.
Why not Google for the ‘Top Ten Twitter Tools’ and see what twitter users are recommending right now?
If this still seems a bit daunting, there are also companies that will manage your blogging and social media accounts. This means you get the benefit of the web exposure without having to master all the technology first. This is a great way of reaping the benefits now, not later – or maybe never, if you don’t have the courage to take those crucial first steps.
My top tip is to take the plunge and go ahead and create some accounts on these sites and observe what’s going on. Another benefit of this is that you can secure your preferred login name before it’s too late.
A New York sandwich delivery company tweets updates via a mobile phone on where they are on their rounds, so customers know when to expect them at their premises. That is such a simple, effective way of using social media to offer something of great value to customers.
It’s time to commit to a completely new way of advertising your business and start planning your social media marketing campaign for the coming year.
About the Author: Colette Mason has written her unique, step by step guide to making business websites more user-friendly and consequently more profitable, the Website Success System. She also writes a usability blog, http://www.thinklikeauser.com , to help business make their websites more customer-focused and easy to use.