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Social Media: what every Business Person / Manager needs to know.

There has been much hyped about Social Media tools, like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and Linked-in (and don’t forget, that FoundLocally incorporates many Social Media elements, too). How much is “hype” by those that have “already drunk the Kool-Aid” (a reference to cult followers of Reverend Jim Jones, and their mass suicide-by-Kool-Aid on his orders) and how much of it is a real benefit for the average business?

FoundLocally prides itself on having been able to expand geographically, and add services based on traffic and advertising growth generated by “organic” search engine traffic (based on extensive solid local content) and repeat visitors, rather than using more expensive pay-per-click or much more expensive traditional media advertising. We figure there are some lessons learned worth sharing. And who wouldn’t like to grow website traffic to a million visitors each month without paying for advertising?

 How can I use Social Media, without being distracted?

The questions everyone keep asking is, how can I use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to build my business  (or sales, membership, attendance, or other success measure), without becoming   so distracted from my real bread-and-butter business?
First of all, lets start with a quick  overview of t the evolution of the Internet into what is now called “Web 2.0”. In the late 1990s, when the internet was new, bandwidth was till largely dial-up, and multimedia was what played on a CD-ROM, most companies were content to copy their print advertising materials onto a website so it was accessible to clients and potential clients on a 24/7 basis. This was what we nowadays call “brochureware” website, which basically talked TO the customers, but had little way for them to ask questions (other than a “contact us” form.) let alone get a response… assuming somebody even bothered to check the e-mail inbox.
Fast forward a decade, and Canadians are now largely using fast internet (either by cable modem or their phone company’s ADSL services) and multimedia is now largely experienced online with file sharing sites like YouTube and Flicker, and music download sites like Apple’s iTunes.. Sites have also appeared for connecting with others, initially classmates, former classmates and tight social circles using sites like MySpace (once owned by Rupert Murdock who owns Fox Television, now owned by Justin Timberlake) and Facebook, which have since opened up their systems to everybody including businesses. LinkedIN was created for business people to network, separate from anything they may do on a personal/social level. Along cam cell phones with their SMS text messaging capability, followed by Twitter which allowed computer users to do the same online with anybody who has chosen to “follow” their “tweets”.
Now everybody can be connected to each other multiple ways including websites, email, text messaging, and file sharing on devices as diverse as desktop computers, laptops, cell phones, and MP3 players. For a business person, that means there are more people and more different possible ways to reach them. That has the possibility of being a big waste of time and an even larger dollar outlay for tools, technology and education.

What is “Social Media”?

It is a set of tools and the devices the run on that enable users to connect with each other “peer to peer” where no one is in charge or in control of the process. It makes it easy for people to share thoughts, questions, as well as their raves and their complaints about goods and services they consume (or not).
Why should businesses care, and even get involved, when the structure of Social Media precludes them from controlling their message or their “brand”. Because if they DON’T they lose all control over their message and their brand. Think of it like every teenage boy’s dream of a secret power: invisibility. While these tools facilitate others communicating about your company and its products & services, it also grants you the power to “lurk” and watch/read what others are saying about you. You can now be the proverbial “fly on the wall” when customers are talking about you.
And if YOU AREN’T, you can be pretty sure your competitors are, looking for ways to increase their market share and get ideas for new products or enhancements.

What is the Bare Minimum you need to do?

What every business needs to do
  1. Register  yourself on Facebook, Myspace and/or Linked-in and create a basic personal profile. Share as much (or as little) as you think is appropriate for business. These sites can “crawl” your e-mail address book to identify existing members you already know
  2. Register on Twitter for both yourself and your company. The sooner the better to sake a claim on twitter addresses that are-or are close to your business and key name(s) , before somebody else does. “Follow” each other, to get the ball rolling.
  3. Create a “group” page for your business, and post some basic information (business description, link to your website, blog, microsites and other online presences you want to share with clients or potential clients. Facebook even lets you create Twitter posts from your “what are you doing now?” Facebook posts.
  4. Bookmark the RSS feed from your Twitter group in your RSS reader, so you can monitor messages on your Twitter page from followers and people you follow.
  5. Go to http://search.twitter.com/ and enter your products and brands to create additional RSS feeds of people mentioning your company and brands in their Twitter posts, and subscribe to them with your RSS Reader.
 This will hold your brand names in each of these Social Media venues, since they are assigned on a first-come first-served basis. This will also help you monitor what is being said about you that you can respond to opportunities as well as respond quickly to any customer service problems that may arise.
You should also begin to observe what your competitors are doing in this very active media space.

Is there anything else, that I need to do?

Social Media sites help you keep in touch with those you already know: your clients, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers. But to grow your business you need to broaden your audience beyond that core group (which might even be zero, for a start-up).  Do lots of search engine marketing (have they indexed your recent web site updates?) and directory marketing (do they list your at all, and have current descriptions?). See tips for directory & search engine marketing. And don’t forget that FoundLocally needs to be part of this effort!
Do you need to do more? Very likely, But this at least “gets your feet wet”, is not overwhelming amount of  technology nor excessive expenditure of time.

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