Unless you’ve been living as a recluse for the last few years, or you’ve chosen to ignore the technological advancement of the Internet, chances are that you have heard of the concept of social networking. The way that the world communicates in the 21st century has been completely transformed by this phenomenon.
Social networking is a web-based structure that allows persons who have common interests to interact freely online; sharing comments, ideas and stories. Some of the more popular networks include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and MySpace. Research indicates that avid social networkers will spend several hours per day communicating with their online friends.
While these online networks are largely used for entertainment and social interaction, the model offers tremendous potential for businesses as well. Recently, AMK Communications hosted the Caribbean SME Business Technology Exposition (CARIBIZTECH) which showcased several experts and presentations about the importance of social networking in the work environment.
Social networking in the Caribbean
DJ Newson, CEO of Newson Consultants, a firm which creates corporate social network strategies, emphasised that Caribbean businesses could not afford to ignore the power of the Internet as a key sales and marketing tool. He explained that social media could help companies to generate public exposure, increase traffic to their websites, and build new business partnerships.
To highlight the wide reach of social networks in our geographical area, Newson pointed to recent studies that showed that the Caribbean, with a total population of about 41 million people, had some 3.9 million Facebook users. This figure represented approximately 9.4 per cent penetration, he revealed, which meant that there were a significant number of people that could be accessed via this medium.
Newson underscored that word-of-mouth marketing – satisfied customers talking positively about a company – was an invaluable method of promoting a business. The very nature of social networking could allow businesses which participate in the process to gain credibility, influence buying situations, facilitate customer-to-customer interactions, solicit feedback, and encourage the selling and promotion of its products.
Getting started in social networking
With over 500 million users, Facebook is the king of all the networks; and it offers the most options for a business to create a meaningful online social presence. Here are some tips for networking newbies to get involved in this opportunity:
1. Start a personal account.
It’s free to sign up with Facebook and you can determine how much personal information you wish to share with the public and which details should remain private. If your primary reason for using Facebook is for business, ensure that you maintain a professional profile.
2. Search for friends and colleagues.
Follow the simple instructions to link your email address books with the site. Facebook’s search tools will find all your contacts that already have Facebook accounts and will allow you to send out friend requests. You’ll be amazed at how many people from your past you will discover in a short time, but you can always refuse to link with specific persons.
3. Create a business presence.
After putting your personal details, you can then create a Facebook fan page or a group to showcase your business. You can invite your Facebook friends to ‘like’ your page or group, which in turn gets reflected on their personal pages. This can encourage persons you don’t know to discover more about your company. Use a search engine such as Google to find a tutorial on the benefits of setting up these group pages.
4. Send out business updates
You can publish details about your products or services in the update box on your business page. However, due to the social nature of this arena, do not place basic advertising information with excessive links back to your website. This could be interpreted as ’spam’ and will definitely turn away people from your page. You should create updates that are entertaining and interesting to encourage people to read and follow your posts.
5. Offer exciting marketing promotions
Everybody loves getting something for free, and Facebook users are no different. You can create a
buzz about your products and services by offering special discounts and deals for your followers, announcing new offerings first on Facebook, asking for feedback and ideas, and developing online contests where persons can win simple prizes.
6. Connect your business website
You can use the Facebook tools to put a link to your fan page on your business website, if you have one. This is a simple way for your website viewers to experience your up-to-date posts and participate in the social interaction that Facebook delivers. They will also see a trendy side to your business that might encourage long-term loyalty.
If you have a small business, you can easily create a presence on Facebook or any other social media by yourself. However, depending on your product offerings and your marketing strategy, it might be useful to hire a part-time worker to post updates or tweets. If necessary, contract a consultant who can help you to make the most of social networking.
About the Author
Cherryl Hanson Simpson is a financial consultant and coach, and the founder of Financially S.M.A.R.T. Services, Jamaica’s number one source for practical, down-to-earth and independent answers for all questions relating to personal finance. Cherryl is currently writing her first book, The 3 Ms of Money. Financially S.M.A.R.T. Services is Jamaica’s number one source for practical, down-to-earth and independent answers for all questions relating to personal finance. Get more smart money advice at www.financiallysmartonline.com and and www.financiallysmartadvice.com .
Copyright © 2010 Cherryl Hanson Simpson. No reproduction without written consent.