Why do all businesses need to participate in online social networks? What is social media? Building social marketing programs (like internet social networks) enables you to build better customer relationships and, when done right, helps you to build a stronger brand.
But as a small business owner or manager, you need to understand 'what is social media' and how social media affects your business, and your brand.
Big business is paying attention to, and investing in, social networks; big businesses are building on-line marketing services (also known as digital or social media) departments that focus on how to interact and connect with their stakeholders online.
Small business owners can easily become part of internet social networks, but they have to invest some of their time (or money; through contracting bloggers, posters, or social media content writers) to build a relationship and maintain a conversation within their network.
Online social networks are a step beyond integrated marketing or direct marketing: this is marketing on a personal, or one-to-one, level.
As a small business owner, you can participate by building an online communication messaging strategy. For example, if you choose to include Twitter in your strategy you will need to develop a message not longer than 140 characters. That can be a challenge (to communicate your story in a short space) but it can also be a strong benefit (you do not have to spend a long time writing your message, you will learn to focus your comments (or redirect to the whole story on your website), and your audience can read the message quickly).
Your message strategy is to send an interested audience to a page on your website that has a much larger (but also engaging) story. You might write something like the following:
Business to business selling (b2b) is a focused activity. Make sure you can identify your unique value proposition.
Note: An ow.ly url (or tiny url) is a shortened version of your full url (you can use hootsuite.com or snipurl.com or a host of others to shorten the full url so that it fits in the twitter post/update box limit of 140 characters).
This sentence is 65 characters long which will fit into a 'tweet'. However if you wanted to add a url link back to your site it would likely be too long for the limit of 140 characters. If that's the case then you need to use a url shortener to 'shorten' the url to help you fit your message into the 'tweet' (you'll also have to write short and direct messages).
Online social networks are the 'perfect' small business marketing tool. Building and maintaining your network, or community, is low cost (only your time and/or money to hire writers or posters).
It is fast; to both post and to reach your community. It has a significantly large reach. It is meant to support two-way communication (that is, you must also use it to hear what people are saying about you).
Social networking is meant to be authentic; it needs to be a giving (not a taking) environment.
I've found social networks to be relatively easy to engage in, and with; however there is no denying that it can be a time-consuming effort. You can find me on Twitter; look for Kris Bovay or for this website's account, MoreforSmallBusiness. I'm also on LinkedIn. And I'm working on building a business page on Facebook. It's important for all small business owners to understand that online social networks are important vehicles to engage stakeholders in conversations, to track competition, and to 'hear' what your markets and your customers are saying.
You can certainly gain interest and raise brand awareness and a host of other positive marketing and business results.
But you must remember that this is a medium that is based on relationship building.
Build your network to be a popular and relevant online community or network for business, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.
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