It is no secret that technology has changed the way we do business. Companies are no longer limited to certain markets by virtue of geographic location; any size or type of business, whether it is brick and mortar or web-based, can become a player in the global marketplace. Technology advances and new trends develop at a rapid pace, allowing for new marketing opportunities and creating the ability to expand a company's web presence and customer base. The latest trend businesses are utilizing is the application of social media as a business and marketing tool.
Social media sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, have been around for a while and have been widely used by artists, writers, and musicians to promote their work. Companies are becoming aware that these sites can be used quite effectively for many business applications as well. A search of any social media site will come up with a profile listing for any type of product or service, from yoga instructors to moving companies. So, just how effective is social media when used for business applications?
The short answer to that question is: very effective, if you understand how the medium works and use it properly. The key to the effectiveness of using social media for business depends on your approach. Like any business plan, organization is essential for success. The same general rules of using social media apply to any other type of marketing and promotion:
- Have a specific purpose in mind and narrow your focus to achieve that purpose.
- Know your target market and streamline your approach to reach and serve that market.
- Make sure that your content is relevant to the purpose that you are trying to achieve.
- Diversify your efforts. Social media use should be integrated as a part of your overall marketing and business plan; it should not be your entire strategy.
It is also important to understand how social media sites work in order to use them effectively. Navigate around the sites, join various communities and discussion groups, and build a following. If you dive in and just start posting links and comments, you could easily end up driving prospects away instead of bringing them in.
Twitter functions in a slightly different way than other types of social media sites, but it can also be a very effective tool for business applications. You do not have to Tweet to Ashton Kutcher-like proportions, but once you build up a following of users who are interested in what you have to offer, it is a very good way to alert prospects to new web content, special promotions, and new products or services.
When used as a part of an overall business and marketing strategy, social media is an effective and cost-efficient tool to promote and develop your business, increase product or brand awareness, and communicate more effectively with your customer base. It is free, has the ability to reach a market of literally millions of potential customers, and has the additional advantage of being able to integrate other types of media, such as video, to increase awareness and web traffic.
Do you have a Facebook profile or a Twitter account? The smart business owner will answer both of those questions with, "Yes. I do."
Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.