Start learning about social media by using the four most popular vehicles: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. If a printer can master these tools and understand how they are used to communicate with customers, then they can add value for which they can charge. The only way a person can learn the value of social media is to join and participate. Just getting an account isn’t going to be of any value unless you also participate.
LinkedIn is the world’s largest social media network for professionals and it is free. The number of users grows every day, with more than 90 million users as of January 1, 2011. LinkedIn connects businesspeople so they might exchange knowledge, ideas, and opportunities with a broader network of professionals. Think of LinkedIn as the Web-based equivalent of a chamber of commerce meeting. At chamber meetings you have the opportunity to meet and chat with potential customers and visit with current customers. You use LinkedIn to accomplish the same thing.
With LinkedIn current customers can give you recommendations and word-of-mouth referrals to help gain new business. You can keep in touch with people and know what they are doing. You can get information and recommendations about who to go to for services you might need or get answers to business questions. You can even get a chance to demonstrate your expertise by answering questions from others. And you can keep an eye on what your competition is doing and who is following them.
Business owners and salespeople should sign up for a LinkedIn account at www.linkedin.com. Provide detailed information about yourself in your profile. Then start looking for current business associates and customers who are on LinkedIn and connect with them. Once connected, you can communicate with them and join online discussions.
Many local areas have business groups on LinkedIn that discuss a variety of business topics. It is simple to find local groups by using the search functions, using your city’s name. Join a group and you will see what the current interests are in your area and learn more about the business environment. You can even link your blog and other social media postings such as Twitter tweets to your LinkedIn page so your business followers can see everything about you in one place.
The success of LinkedIn comes with your ability to socialize online. Most social media sites do not encourage direct sales messages, but serve as a platform to demonstrate a person’s expertise and as a place to get leads for sales calls.
Printers will also want to begin tweeting. Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send 140 character text messages, or “tweets”, to friends or “followers.” Tweets usually contain information that is being shared by a community of like-minded people. The messages can go to the Twitter website, be sent as a text message to a cell phone, or posted on various third-party applications or social media sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook. People follow others on Twitter to gain more information on specific subjects. Businesses use Twitter to push helpful information to consumers. Some offer discounts and coupons. There are many social media add-on tools that allow the posting to be automated and populate a variety of social media platforms at one time.
Facebook started as a gathering spot for people to connect with their friends online and, as of January 2011, had more than 600 million users. Businesses have been attracted to Facebook because of the large number of users and the ease with which they can interact with customers and prospects. You can sign up at www.facebook.com.
A Facebook business page can become almost as important as a company’s website. Because of the volume and the interlinking of friends and fans, businesses can instantly communicate with an ever growing audience. Postings can include important information, technical news, discount offerings, or coupons and special promotions. The posts include tweets, links to other Web pages, photos, and video.
YouTube is the social media site for video. Users can post video content for free, which can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection. Businesses can create their own “channel” so viewers can easily find their videos grouped together. The videos can also be linked to any other social media to help create a wider distribution of the information.