Social Networking for Your Business

One of the hottest topics on the Internet as well as most media outlets lately has been the use of social media. Talk shows are talking about it, news outlets are reporting about it, and businesses are starting to use it for marketing and public relations. So what is social media marketing? What are the benefits of using this new marketing tool? And finally, what are the different media outlets that can be used to make the connection?

The first step would probably be to define social media marketing, since most printers are probably still in the dark about this new tool. Social media marketing is a form of Internet marketing which seeks to achieve branding and marketing communication goals through the participation in a variety of social media networks. In other words, it is getting the word out about your company by using various social networks. So, now that we have that cleared up, we probably should define social networks. Most of us have likely visited or used a social network within the last month.

Invited to the Party

Social networks are primarily Internet and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings. The term most often refers to activities that integrate technology, telecommunications, and social interaction with the construction of words, pictures, videos, and audio. The primary focus of this definition, which is the key to effective social networking, is the sharing of information among human beings. A social network allows you to create online relationships with other human beings. This is the first step to successful marketing using such networks. But before I get into the networks themselves, I want you to imagine social networking as large cocktail party.

Back in the day, many business deals were secured through interaction at cocktail parties. You would mingle. Make connections. Introduce yourself through other acquaintances and occasionally talk business. If you were lucky, you may have exchanged business cards with a possible prospect and hoped for the best with the new contacts you made. Social networking is no different; it just allows you to reach a much larger audience.

Wider Web

Aside from the social aspect, social media marketing has some "hidden" benefits as well. Mainly, using social networks increases your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Printers pay Web consultants thousands of dollars to have them make a few changes to a website in the hopes of securing some "page one" results in Google. But how much of that is really necessary?

There are two types of SEO: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. On-page SEO involves changes made to your website. For example, what are your H1, H2, and H3 tags? What are the alt-tags labels for your images? Are they keyword rich? These are all changes that require an extensive background in HTML and some Web coding. The sad part is that Web crawlers only use on-page SEO for 25% of their rankings; 75% is attributed to off-page SEO. Off-page SEO consists of having links to your site on other trusted websites.

Let's take another look at our cocktail party. While conversing, a friend mentions to a group of people that he knows Bob's Printing. Having a link to your website on another site is just like that friend saying, "I know Bob's Printing." But what if that friend said that Bob's Printing is a great printing company? Now we have moved a step further in the relational conversation—having your site linked on another site, where the link text says "Printing Company" is the next step in off-page SEO. Search engines will assume that "Printing Company" is synonymous with your site.

Now, what if that friend at the cocktail party is highly revered by everyone in the group? You have hit pay dirt. The same occurs in off-page SEO when your link is on a trusted site. You gain even more credibility if your link is on many trusted sites. Of course, the goal now is to have people clicking on those links. That is where social networks come into play.

There are hundreds of social networks floating around the Internet. It can be difficult and overwhelming to choose where to start. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Digg, blogs; they are all vying for your attention, and each says it is the best. I want to concentrate on three. By using these three in concert, you will not only increase your SEO, but you will also begin to build solid relationships that will eventually turn into solid sales.

LinkedIn

Wikipedia defines LinkedIn as "a business-oriented social networking site launched in May 2003. It is mainly used for professional networking. As of December 2007, its site traffic was 3.2 million visitors per month, up 485% from the end of 2006. As of October 2008, it had more than 30 million registered users, spanning 150 industries." The purpose of LinkedIn is to allow registered users to maintain a list of contact details of people they know and trust in business. People in the list are called Connections. Users can invite anyone, whether a site user or not, to become a connection.

Through LinkedIn you connect with prospects in industries that you target. You can discuss industry issues and new technology with printers across the world and you can create a profile of information that details you and your company. Using LinkedIn for research and marketing, there is much you can achieve. You will see who your friends know; this helps you take advantage of their existing network. You can also find out "who you need to know" to reach your target audience. For example, if you sell large-format printing, you can find out who is in charge of purchasing at the company you want to do business with.

Again, let's look back at the cocktail party. You can use LinkedIn to get introduced to other connections through the people you know. Grow your network on LinkedIn, actively participate in conversations, and answer questions that are asked. By being "social" you increase your readership and open new connections throughout the network.

Blogging

A blog (a contraction of the term "Web log") is a website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. A blog allows you to share your ideas about many subjects. By writing a blog, you can make your opinion known throughout the Web. Interesting articles attract attention. There are many hosting services where you can park your blog. WordPress.com is one of the better services that I have found.

Most blogs allow you to create multiple information pages. On these pages you describe your company, your philosophy, add links back to your main site (great off-page SEO) and offer tools or other information to your visitors.

The most overlooked element of a blog is that once you've established a frequent pattern of posting and you have the Googlebot coming to your site every few days, you can use that to link to other sites, sub-domains, or deep links that you need to have crawled. While most blog postings may not have direct links to any sites in particular, you can always format your blog with permanent links on the side.

Blog writing is not difficult if you follow these suggestions:

  • Make your opinion known
  • Write less—250 words is enough
  • Write with passion
  • Make headlines snappy
  • Include bullet point lists
  • Make your posts easy to scan
  • Be consistent with your style
  • Litter the post with keywords about your topic and industry

Many large companies have found that their blogs are hit more often than their main website. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If you are providing interesting content and people are reading and returning, then you are building a social relationship. People will value your thoughts or opinions. They will come to you with questions and look to you for solutions. When this occurs, you have your foot in the door. As any good salesperson will tell you, starting the conversation is the hardest part of selling.

Twitter

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service, that allows its users to send and read other users' updates (known as "tweets"), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length. Twitter is first and foremost a giant conversation. With Twitter, you can choose who you follow, and people will choose to follow you in return. Because posts can only contain up to 140 characters, Twitter forces you to distill your message.

To really reach a broad audience, you need to dive right in. Start following people immediately. Hundreds of Twitter tools and directories allow you to search for people who post keywords of interest for you to follow. Look for industry leaders on Twitter and follow them. Follow the people who are following the industry leaders and increase your network. Watch what others are posting and mimic those that you find most interesting.

Here are some ways Twitter can be used to market your company:

  • Twitter extends the reach for those individuals or companies that already have a blogging strategy in place and want to deepen or further ties.
  • Twitter can be used to announce sales and deals.
  • Twitter builds consensus or a community of supporters.
  • Twitter can be used to update breaking news or events.

Twitter is by far the fastest growing cocktail party on the Internet. Critics say that Twitter is a lot of noise that no one really listens to, but case studies prove differently. Search how Comcast has used Twitter to increase its customer service. Dell credited over $1 million in sales last year directly to Twitter. And many printers are using it to successfully gain additional business.

I have talked to many companies about how successful Twitter has been for them. In one recent conversation, an owner told me that, thanks to Twitter, she has now added clients in 10 additional states across the U.S. and is finding her "tweets" about daily specials are spread worldwide.

It is not easy getting started in social media; that much is for sure. But as with any marketing project, the more time, resources, and dedication you put into it, the greater the returns will be. Jump in the water. Use these three social networks together. Post a blog article, then tweet about it, and add it to your LinkedIn profile. Update your LinkedIn profile with your blog link and your Twitter address. Converse with people, create relationships, don't just talk about you. Successful social media marketing occurs when you care about your contacts and prospects. Solve their problems and they become customers for life.

Joe Kern is the Marketing and Customer Care Manager at PagePath Technologies. He has been in the printing industry for more than 23 years, working every job from running a press and desktop publishing to being the general manager of a print shop. Contact him at 630/689-4119 or JKern@pagepath.com.

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