Social Media 101: What You Need to Know About the Players
Over the past few months, we have been experimenting with the many sides of social media. We often are asked, "What is it?" "Do I need to be doing this?" At times, it seems there are more questions than answers. So, the only way to do this right is to jump in with both feet and explore where few men have gone before :-). After all, that's what marketing (and Star Trek) is all about!
The challenge with social media is that it feels like walking on shifting sands. As soon as you start with one network/service, like setting up a profile on LinkedIn, you receive five invitations from other networks you've never heard of, like Plaxo, MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter. How does it all fit? Is social media more than just personal networking or can it be used for business? How can a business move toward embracing social media?
Over the course of the next several issues, we will be exploring all aspects of social media. To begin, the answer to the question "Is social media good for business?" is a big "Yes." Many businesses, for instance, are interacting with their customers using services like Twitter. For example, companies like JetBlue have identities so they can share information about flights and service, and engage in conversations with their customers and use that to improve their serviceability. Powerful? You bet, and we're only getting started.
The reality is that traditional barriers to market visibility, like media and postage costs, have all but dissolved and it is now possible to reach completely new markets through networks based on interest. Think something like Match.com for business. We're talking about reaching influencers where one acknowledgement could mean thousands of web site visits for your business.
So this first article is about laying out the groundwork for social media - establishing the buckets to sort through all the different options. A tip of the hat to Chris Brogan who is a well-known social media expert (of course we found him on Twitter :-). Here we will focus on the top web sites/services in each category. Chris offers an interesting and extensive list of social media applications for those of you who want to immerse yourself in the topic right away.
We highly recommend adding blogs to business web sites as a way of creating valuable, rich content, that adds a more tangible personality to your overall brand. Blogs are inexpensive to set up; in fact, many applications are free. A couple of the top blogging sites include:
- Wordpress - Free blog service and one we use because it comes as part of our web site ISP's hosting account
- Blogger - Free blog service from Google
- Typepad - Paid blog service
Use blogs to talk with customers and prospects, and to interact with influencers in your community or market. To discover who the top bloggers are by topic, company, competitor, product type, or technology, visit http://www.technorati.com and search for your particular interest. Technorati is also a good outlet for promoting blog posts using #tag identifiers, but we'll cover that in an upcoming article that discusses how to use blogs for promotion.
A microblog is a service that allows bloggers to make very short posts with fixed number of characters usually 140-200 characters. That's about 2-3 sentences. With these services, you need to be quick and to the point. Microblogs have a way of introducing your posts to a wider audience than a typical blog. They are not tracked by Technorati yet, but I'm sure that will change soon.
The volume and number of users of microblogs is growing and "status update" features are appearing everywhere. That's essentially a form of microblogging. These blogs make it easier to participate because the posts are so short and sweet, and it feels like less of a commitment. Postings can be a simple stream of thought like, "Today I missed my flight," to sharing a recent article published by yourself or someone else you thought was interesting. Popular microblogging sites include:
These services are among the most familiar. Social networks are designed to maintain personal and professional networks, create profiles, share files, photos, and more. The most popular social networks include:
- Facebook - More than 100 million users, personal and professional use, clean, easy-to-use interface
- MySpace - Younger crowd, recommended for personal use, too much hype and one-upsmanship going on.
- LinkedIn - Professional networking tool, Q&A, good for referrals, job searches, get and give professional recommendations
- Plaxo - Like Facebook with fewer features. More for contact management.
- Flickr - Photo sharing site
Social Bookmarking & News Sites
Then there are web sites that feed in news from other sites and wires and allow readers to rank and vote on those articles. Social news sites aggregate information and allow users to customize preferences. They do not usually provide two-way communication. The ranking and voting of articles, blogs, and web sites can drive significant traffic. Most articles have a series of icons offering readers the ability to rank and bookmark on their favorite site. Popular social news and bookmarking sites include:
- Digg - Bookmarking and rating service
- StumbleUpon - Bookmarking, rating, and sharing services
- Delicious - Bookmarking and rating service
- Slashdot - Bookmarking and rating service; the first of the social media sites for techies
- Squidoo - Bookmarking, rating, and sharing services
- RSS Feeds - A direct feed from a web site that notifies you of an update or change, such as Telesian's RSS feeds
Online Video Services
These sites are well known. In fact, I would venture to guess that most of us have been on YouTube by now. But this is an area to keep an eye on. Not every social media site accommodates video and photos, and often requires cross linking to services and sites on this list. It all depends on how much you plan to incorporate video into your marketing plan. Popular online video sites include:
We've only begun to scratch the surface of social media. With so many opportunities, it's hard to know where to start. The best place is to try one, and experiment. Find one that suits your style, pace, and network, and stick with it. And don't feel like you need to start contributing right away. Just listen to the conversations and observe. Once you start with one network, you'll find yourself dipping your toe into other services and reading web sites and articles you probably would not have found on your own.
Stay tuned for the next article series, which will talk more in depth about the power of microblogging and networking sites and how to leverage the power that they offer.
Before you run off and immerse yourself in the world of social media, remember that all online marketing leads back to the corporate web site or blog. Make sure you've got a high impact, lead generation web site in place before you sink your teeth into the world of online marketing. [link to http://www.telesian.com/ebusiness/index.cfm]
Just be careful not to blatantly promote, or you'll hear about it. Social media is about sharing your opinions with each other and the beauty is the instant feedback. But if you find yourself or your company making a mistake, just own up to it and don't follow in the shoes of Dell and others who fought back and lost.
Watch for more on this topic in the October's issue of "What's Working in Marketing".