Can Businesses Be Social?

If you haven't heard of Twitter or Facebook, it's likely you've been on another planet for the last five years. Just when you were getting comfortable with this whole Web thing, now everyone's talking about social media, tweets and photo streams. The real question, if you're a small business owner, is whether or not these new uses of technology have anything to offer your business.

It's Not For You

A good rule of thumb to remember is, "new does not equal necessary." While there is always potential for new business in the changes technology creates, you should never assume that all businesses will benefit equally from the same tools. Typically, non-profit organizations or community groups will get more out of social media than your average mom and pop store, or big corporation. This is largely because a non-profit or community organization spends more of their time interacting with people on a personal level than does the average business.

Do you want your customers to have more frequent contact with you? Do you want your clients to know more details about your personal life? Do you have the time to participate in more groups and activities than you currently spend? Does your business reflect your personality? If a common theme here is the answer "no" then social media and social networking is not for you.

Okay, Maybe It Is For You

Maybe you've been looking for a way to change your business, or breathe new life into it. Maybe you've been wondering how you can leverage technology to multiply your personal presence beyond what's previously been physically possible. Or maybe you want to get to know your target market more deeply. These are just a few of the possible reasons social media really might be something for you to take seriously.

The thing is, no one really knows all of the possibilities. That's the great thing about technology. What works for one person or business isn't guaranteed to work for another. But technology can be the great equalizer, allowing the small fish to compete with the big ones. It can also let you take your business to the next level if you're bold enough to jump in.

For those of you highly concerned with search engine performance, you can help boost your website's visibility by setting up profiles and account pages for your business at all of these social media websites. The more links back to your main website, the better. And even if you don't use them now, you may want to reserve an account under your business name now, before someone else snaps it up.

If you have the time to learn about these new tools, and the willingness to try new things, and the desire to grow your business (or are lucky enough to have someone you can delegate these concerns to) then here's some information that will hopefully inspire you to do something new!

Where To Look

  • Facebook -
    Primarily intended for individual networking, Facebook allows the creation of business pages that individuals can become the "fan" of. I recommend creating an individual account, and then creating a business page and becoming your own first fan. Then let others know where your business page is, so they can also link to it. You can use this page to post updates on what your business is doing, and can also post links and upload files. There's also a photo gallery feature well suited to displaying a portfolio, and an event promotion system.
  • Twitter -
    Similar to Facebook's status feature, Twitter lets you post 140 character comments about your activities on a page where others can choose to "follow" you, thereby seeing your updates on their own Twitter page. And of course, you can also follow others, so that your own page becomes a combination of your own updates and those of others. Used properly, this is a great way to keep individuals in touch. It can also be mind-numbingly trivial and boring, which is why it gets such a bad reputation in some circles.
  • Flickr -
    This website is all about photos. You can upload photos to your heart's content, and organize them in easy to use albums. You can even create various widgets to display these collections of photos in other websites by copying and pasting a few snippets of code. If your business could benefit from an online portfolio, this could be a very useful tool.
  • LinkedIn -
    Similar in concept to Facebook, LinkedIn is intended more specifically for the business professional. This networking site lets you connect with others professionals and provide and receive references. It highlights your professional connections. Think of it like an online resume that can extend your reach. If you're well connected, this website is a great way of documenting and leveraging those connections. If you're not, it can be a great way of changing that.
  • YouTube -
    If your business has video of events or hilarious commercials, or anything else that people might want to watch, you can upload them to YouTube. One main advantage for a business is the free marketing - you never know who'll stumble across your videos, and thereby a link to your website. Once uploaded, you can embed these videos on your own site, and let YouTube pay for the bandwidth and storage space. And if your video is interesting to others, they can also embed it on their websites. This is good, because if you hit the right nerve, you could find yourself with sudden world-wide attention!

The only cost involved in participating on these websites is your time. But if you think creatively and measure the results as you go, it can prove rewarding. Don't be afraid to decide something isn't appropriate for you or your business, but don't ignore it just because you've "never done it that way before."

Good luck!

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Posted on by Nathan Lyle in Articles, Social Media and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

About Nathan Lyle

Nathan is a father of four, an amateur musician, and an aspiring photographer. He started programming in 4th grade on an Apple II+ and many years later spent much of his college years freelancing website design for college departments. Nathan is a veteran of the Browser Wars, and will gladly talk at length about the changes he has seen in Web technology if you accidentally ask him.

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