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Marketing Yourself on Social Networks

Image Marketing Yourself on Social Networks
By Vanessa Salvia
 
What did you think about social networking when sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter first became popular? If you're like me, you were a little suspicious, wary of lack of privacy and already feeling too busy with the everyday demands of life to bother seeking out social interaction in the online world. But my initial wariness has vanished. People of all ages are signing up for social sites, driven by a desire to keep up with friends, network with colleagues, and receive updates from groups they belong to and businesses they frequent. The number of social networking sites is growing, and participation in networking sites is growing. A January 2009 "Adults and Social Networks" survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project (pewinternet.org) reported that 35% of adult Internet users have a profile on an online social network site. This number is more than quadruple the 8% it was four years ago. Pew also reports that 65% of online teens participate in online social networks. Since adults make up a larger portion of the U.S. population than teens, 35% represents a larger number of users. And these users represent all ages, background, experiences, and interests.

There are numerous social media sites which all have something a little different to offer. You don't have to engage in each and every method of generating social media interest. It is best to find the two or three sites or strategies that are appealing to you and focus on those.

The goal of social networking is to build a network of people who share your interests. These people may be professional colleagues, potential business partners, current customers, or potential customers. Improving PR or achieving greater sales numbers requires that people can easily find you. Develop a consistent identity and personality and stick with it. Establish one name by which you are known across all of the sites you use, so people always know it's you.

Probably the biggest mistake made by people who want to get started with social networking is diving in without an understanding of the technology and with no plan or strategy. Closely following that is a lack of valuable content. Great content should be the foundation your social networking empire is built on. Otherwise, there is little-to-no incentive for people to talk about you, link to you, or share your info with others.

Social networking sites do not offer a captive audience to which you can broadcast information about your company at will. The goal is to share useful and informative information with your network or community, then when they want to know more about you, they can head to your website. Social networking is about listening to what the community wants, sharing information, advice, or other content of value, and being available to keep the promises you've made to your customers.Your activity on the many social sites serves to increase awareness of your company and your brand, and encourages people to refer to your primary website or blog, where the real sales pitch is.

Furthermore, social networking sites such as Facebook (facebook.com) and particularly Twitter (twitter.com) provide you with an opportunity to seek out and engage people who might be interested in your products.Because the process of following someone on Twitter and responding to their tweets is fairly casual, it allows you to get your name in front of people and essentially gain an audience with people who may be very powerful in your field, and who you wouldn't be able to engage otherwise.

On Twitter, you can post as often as you want, but you have only 140 characters with which to share your message. When you find someone on Twitter whose tweets (a status update posted on Twitter) you want to keep up with, you can "follow" them. You see the tweets of people you follow, and the people who follow you see your tweets.

There is a fine line between promotion and spam. Be genuine, and conduct your business with transparency and respect for your audience. Submitting content that doesn't fit with the community or provide any benefit to the users will likely end up in it being tossed out. Some users of sites like Digg don't take kindly to blatant self-promotion. Getting negative attention on a popular site like this can be a PR nightmare. The best way to find out the unspoken rules of the social site you want to use is to observe for a few days.

Marketing online is based on a sense of trust and community. It can be tempting to build your profile by becoming friends with anybody and everybody and submitting sales-focused content at every opportunity, but your goal should be quality, not quantity. Finding like-minded people will give you a cohesive group in which to spread your message.

The sharing nature of social networking allows it to be an open dialogue between you and the rest of the world. It strengthens connections between your customers and clients, and provides an increased opportunity to strengthen your search engine optimization efforts through keyword-rich content. Marketing using social media and networking sites puts you in control of your brand and identity, and related content.

As with Search Engine Optimization, most sites and businesses can benefit from Social Media Marketing, but the strategy you employ should be tailored to suit your site and any SEO you're already doing, as well as your industry and your audience. SMO is not a substitute for SEO, simply another tool to keep you in the game and a way to tap into the sharing habits of millions of Internet users.

Know Your Community

YouTube (youtube.com) and Flickr (flickr.com), and Vimeo(vimeo.com) are very popular sites with a wide variety of users that upload and share videos and photos. Film or photograph your products or services in action, and add them to a profile on one of these sites, with good tags (descriptions) so they are more easily found.

Facebook (facebook.com) and MySpace (myspace.com) are networking sites that allow you to create profiles and join and create friend networks. Facebook is less advertising driven and includes many features that are friendly to businesses and marketing. Adding photos and updating content is easy with both platforms.MySpace users skew young, and for the right demographic and industry, it can be a powerful force. Adding music and customizing how your page looks is one of the appealing features of MySpace, but one drawback is the large amount of visual "noise."

One of the benefits of Google's universal search is that it allows users to quickly and easily find videos and photographs. A search for a keyword plus YouTube returns videos on YouTube with that keyword in the title. While YouTube is popular for home videos and music, people also turn to it for how-to demos and instructions. Leverage the power of this site by taking video of your products or services, give them an optimized title, and upload them to YouTube from your own "channel."

Twitter is exploding in popularity right now. Give some thought to the voice you want to project with your Twitter presence and stay on track with that focus. Ideally you will have a combination of personal, business, and special interest, but make sure you keep a certain percentage of tweets focused on your area of expertise.

People today want to feel that they are connecting with a person, and not with a brand or corporate identity. Tweeting promotional messages all the time is spammy and unwelcome. Be the person who offers advice. Ask questions, and answer the questions of others. When someone tweets you, respond to them. Twitter users can "retweet" the tweets of others, so users are helping spread your tweets to new people.

How you structure your tweets will influence how you and your brand are perceived. Whether or not you tweet about your family, for instance, may influence how approachable you are perceived as being. If you focus on business-related thoughts, questions and status updates, people will accept you as the "business guy."

Tweets should be friendly, and written in a conversational style. There's a finesse to tweeting about yourself in a way that gets your message out but isn't blatantly promotional.

Poor example: "Read my blog post about last weekend's #catering conference at mydomain.com and leave a comment!"

Good example: "New blog post about last weekend's #catering conference at mydomain.com. Which of you went? Fav presenters?"

In the second example, you're giving a status update and also inviting your followers to respond with their own thoughts. You're giving, not simply taking. The savvy business marketer will present useful information in most of their tweets, and the remainder will be a combination of surveys, polls, questions, or other such posts inviting comments and suggestions.

Top tips for using Twitter: Be interesting, follow interesting people, and learn how to use the service effectively.

Twitter Tools

It can be time consuming and overwhelming to log in to Twitter and update whenever you have a new thought or question to share. Tweetlater (tweetlater.com) is a tool that lets you create tweets then schedule when they are sent. Spend a few hours creating a "tweet plan" for the next week or month, then your job is done. This service also allows you to receive digests of tweets based on usages of keywords you select.

Tweetstats (tweetstats.com) is a service that graphs your Twitter stats, including your frequency and the number of replies.

Twitalyzer (twitalyzer.com) is an interesting tool that analyzes your Twitter posts for such things as "signal-to-noise," or the tendency to pass along actual information rather than anecdote. Enter in your Twitter name and it analyzes your "clout" (the tendency of people to reference you in a post), and your "generosity" (your tendency to pass along the info of others), among other interesting metrics.

If you have accounts with many services, such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook, Ping.fm allows you to post updates across all of your social media sites in one single step. What a timesaver!

Tracking Social Networking Results

Once your content starts getting noticed on these sites, you will want to keep track of what people are saying. But with conversations now taking place via comments on YouTube videos, Twitter, blog comments, etc, how can you keep up with the many ways people have to talk about you? Fortunately, there are a number of tools to help.

* Sign up to receive Google Alerts (google.com/alerts) every time a keyword of your choice is used in a news feed, blog, video, group, or on the web, and receive email alerts daily, weekly, or when-it-happens.

* You can search Technorati (Technorati.com) for usages of keywords of your choice. Your "authority" on Technorati is the number of blogs that are linking to your website.

* Bloglines (Bloglines.com) enables you to search the web for usages of your keywords.

* Twitter Search(http://search.twitter.com) allows you to search user tweets for keywords using hash tags. Searchable terms are created by prefacing a word using the # symbol. For instance, a tweet might say" "Heading to Frisco for the #hackysack tournament." This allows anyone searching for usages of the term "hackysack" to see your tweet. The search feature only works on the Twitter site, but you don't have to sign up for Twitter in order to be able to use it.

Take a look at how many people joinyour socialnetwork over a certain amount of time, how much activity is in your forum, and what the click-through rate is to your primary website from any of these platforms. A good analytics program can tell you how many links from these sites resulted in sales.

With social media, there's no doubt you can still experience a significant impact, but return on investment metrics will be harder to quantify. It's not easy to measure the dollar-for-dollar ROI of joining in on a conversation on a blog, for instance. So go into it with a clear understanding of your goals. What do you want to measure? Are you hoping to build links, a more positive reputation, reduce the impact of a negative reputation, stronger relationships with customers?

Clarify Your Strategy

Measuring qualitative success will depend on answering some general questions to begin with and to understand what improvements were made.

What do you have to offer this community of users that you are attempting to create? What is your value, and how will you present it to the customers?

What is your initial customer loyalty? What kinds of conversations are your customers having about you online? How are you joining those conversations or responding to them? Who are your key audiences and how strong is your relationship with them? What kind of relationships are you trying to develop-customer to customer; business to customer; business to business?

Quantitative improvements are more easily measured, using traditional analytics programs such as Google Analytics. Your blog probably has plugins to measure subscriber count. If not, open up a Feedburner account (feedburner.com), which tracks subscriber numbers and usages of your content such as click-throughs.

Xinu (xinureturns.com) allows you to enter a URL, and returns lots of useful date, including rankings across various sites, indexed pages, subscriber data, number of visits, and backlinks from various sites.

It's easy to measure quantifiable improvements to click-through rates, increased sales, and number of site visits, for instance, but it can be difficult to separate the results from your other business campaigns. If you are setting up a social media campaign from the ground-up, set up some checks and balances from the beginning, to make the ROI from your social efforts a little more apparent. For instance, if any of your social content links to a page that results in a direct sale, click-through rate is a measureable metric.

Follow Through

Plan a long-term strategy before you begin. What happens after you initiate your campaign? Who will maintain the social media efforts-yourself or a staff member? How will you keep the dialogue going? How will you monitor the results of your efforts? How will you respond to positive and negative attention you may receive? Are you ready to handle success-which may mean increased press attention, increased demand for your products and services, increased pressure on all of your resources?
Finally, accept that social media users are fickle, and technology and applications change rapidly. Involvement with social media requires an almost constant adjusting of the "flow" of your efforts so that it is continually enjoyable and engaging.

Setting Up A Social Networking Profile

Setting up a profile on a social networking site then never enhancing or maintaining it may be worse than not having a profile at all. And it's such a loss, too. Many of these platforms can be valuable for bringing you business, and they are usually free to join.

Manage your time

Maintaining profiles on several sites can be time consuming. To maximize your involvement and return on your time, choose one or two social networking sites that fit your own personality and the target audience of your business and focus on them. Examine the profiles you want to create, and gather all of your information before you start, rather than skipping a question, thinking that you'll fill it in later.

Sit down at the computer and have with you Your Name, Business Name, Email Addresses, URLs, and Instant Messaging screen names.

Create a short description of your company, about 100 words.

If you will share information about yourself, create a short (50-100 words) personal biography including your education, past job experience.

Gather photos you want to post, including one you will use as your profile photo. Your company logo would be a good choice, or a photo of your product.

Determine if the network you are using supports applications. Facebook, for instance, has many business-related apps that make marketing yourself much easier. Facebook has a video-sharing app (Facebook Video), calendar applications that let you share your events (Upcoming), a photo app to integrate photos from a Flickr account (My Flickr), and YouTube Box, which lets visitors play your YouTube videos right on your Facebook page.

Summary

Social Networking has many potential benefits. It can be extremely valuable in gaining you a wider audience. The more active you are online and the greater the value of the content you provide, the more attention you can get. So define your goals and get started with online profiles, blogs, video, etc. Not only will your own site grow, you will create an authoritative profile for yourself that people will come to trust.

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