There are now hundreds of millions of people actively engaged on social networks, blogs and micro messaging services, literally dwarfing any other media in size or level of activity. And there are more joining everyday. Social media has truly come of age. A year ago, in a presentation on the topic of social networking in business, I noted that Facebook had reached the eye popping number of 40 million registered users while Linkedin had hit 8 million. This week, as a panelist on the same topic at the Town Hall LA series, I noted that Facebook now has over 100 million registered users and Linkedin has just gone over 32 million.
Yes social networks have yet to develop clear paths to profitability. Facebook is still obviously in the burn rate phase and while Linkedin claims they have been profitable for 2 years they are still raising capital to support the business. There are also significant data security and data portability issues that need to be sorted. To suggest that these are barriers that will hold social media back however is simply foolish. Social media has come of age and businesses of all sizes and types are realizing the potential of harnessing the power of these applications to reach, engage and communicate with customers, employees and key influencers. This is most acutely true in the media business. So if you're still sitting on the sidelines wondering what this whole social networking thing is about and how you and your business should participate; here are our top 10 tips.
Social Networking for Business Top 10
1.) Dive In. Join social networks and start using social media yourself. Get your company and teams on relevant social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn as well as using micro messaging applications like Twitter. Create company, brand and product groups on social networks and social media applications. Create your own blog and learn about the process as well as the medium and how to leverage it. Do not delegate this to others.
2.) Beware of Social Media “Experts”. Any time there is a market transition false prophets emerge, only too happy to share their expertise for a price. Build Your Own Capabilities. Yes this can be complicated but social media is by definition an experiential medium. Develop social media awareness and knowledge internally based on your own experiences. Social networking should become as natural as using email or basic web applications for your company.
3.) Don’t Chase Trends. Chase Engagement. Social networking is too important to put all your chips only in the Facebook or LinkedIn baskets. Don’t get caught up in the bandwagon du jour. Get your company and all of your people on and comfortable with social nets and applications. The key is to engage with your customers and prospects and learn the medium.
4.) Focus on Your ROI. Social networking won't be a revenue driver or even have a tangible ROI for awhile. That being said the cost to create, develop and maintain these lightweight apps isn’t much. The need to have multifaceted (and multimedia) interactions with customers, prospects, employees and influencers is essential and social media will play a strong role. Focus on a series of metrics around engagement. How many people subscribe, join and or interact with your company and brands? And what are they saying? Engagement is the currency.
5.) Be an early adopter. Start in a skunk works fashion. You want to build internal knowledge and a sense of what's out there, so that when (and if) social networks do offer serious revenue opportunities for your business, your team is savvy about them and doesn't come across like a 50-year-old at her first Gen Y hip-hop concert.
6.) It’s Not Just for Big Companies. Social media is a great equalizer. Anyone can join and participate. It’s inexpensive to create, maintain and use. If you are part of a big company don’t let size get in your way of being nimble and agile. If you’re part of a small company don’t feel like cost or resources will be a barrier. They won’t be.
7.) Don’t Violate Your Brand Truth. Don’t dress grandma up in a miniskirt. Your company brand doesn’t need to suddenly become hip or change character to use social media. Better that it doesn’t. Social media drives transparency and authenticity. Stick with who you are and your brand truth.
8.) Employees Are the Brand. Trust Them. We don’t set guidelines or rules for using social networks for our employees. We try to encourage the use of all social media including blogging and micro messaging platforms of all sorts. Yes occasionally we wince at something that gets posted. That being said our brands are extensions of our people and as such we want our people to connect with our markets and to leverage social media applications as one of the avenues to do so.
9.) Don’t Think Top Down. Social media is a grass roots phenomenon. Encourage the use from the bottom up, not the top down.
10.) Don’t Pitch. Be careful in using social media as a direct marketing platform. Yes you can and should tout your offerings but the concept of social networking is that it’s a permission based conversation. You are connecting with others who have common interests. It’s not cool to abuse a “social connection” to give a ham fisted sales pitch.
- Companies should get active on Twitter. Talk about what they're doing. Go to http://search.twitter.com/ input their company name and brands, and bookmark those searches and return to them to see what people are saying. If customers say something worth responding to, respond. If someone complains, contact them to try to fix their problem. That way, companies make friends and evangelists for life. You can't buy that kind of customer loyalty.
- Create Facebook and LinkedIn groups for your company, your brands and your services. Encourage your employees to join these social networks and actively engage with customers and prospects.
Who's Doing It Well:
- Zappos.com. The successful online shoe company has YouTube videos on its home page. They have 200 employees on Twitter, with a link from the home page to all of their employee tweets. The text of the link is "What are Zappos employees doing right now?" The link goes to this page http://twitter.zappos.com/employee_tweets which aggregates all Zappos Twitters.
- Dell. The company has made aggressive use of social media as part of an effort to turn the company around. They encourage employees to use Twitter. They have a team of people scouring blogs looking for mentions of the company -- especially complaints, and when they find something they swoop in and try to fix the problem. They have built their own social media platform for suggestions for fixing the company, used by Dell's thousands of internal employees. The overall strategy seems to be working; Dell's profits beat analyst expectations this past week.
- Fidelity Investments. They offer podcasts for investments guidance, and embeddable widgets to monitor the markets.
- JetBlue. Actively uses blogging, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and its own social network to connect with its community.
My thanks to Jon Goodman, as well as the rest of the Town Hall crew, for inviting me to participate in the panel on "social networking in business". Also thanks to my co panelist Rob Getzchman from Linkedin. Quick shout out here as well to our team of social net and micro messaging experts at TechWeb, which numbers in the dozens, for their ongoing innovation with social media. Let me specifically note and thank here David Berlind, Mitch Wagner, Alex Wolfe, Fritz Nelson, Scott Vaughan and Alex Dunne for sharing their thoughts, experiences and insights about social media that helped distill the ideas presented at the panel and recapped here as the "Social Networking in Business Top 10". In addition I'll link here to our just published research on social media in business that is part of our Tech Marketing Best Practices Research series.,