Most people think of Facebook when they hear "social media," and many retailers think Facebook is irrelevant to their business. However, there is more to the story than this simplification, and pundits and consultants say that business-to-business community needs to take a good look at the entire social media landscape before assuming that it is unimportant. It means looking at Facebook, yes, but also at other social platforms, especially LinkedIn, and then making the leap in the right way.
Lily O'Halloran of DropShipAccess.com has written a white paper on how ecommerce entrepreneurs can make the best use of social media, and her advice strikes at the heart of the issue. The entire idea of social networking is that a community of people are interacting and offering interesting things to each other. A company making the leap into this arena has to actually join the community, and most importantly of all, contribute to it. "If you jump in there with both barrels blazing before you know what you're doing, and with no knowledge of how things are done on a particular social site, you might very well commit social networking suicide!" she writes. "Read other people's posts. If you see an opportunity to make a knowledgeable comment or answer a question, then by all means do so, but mind your manners. Do not come across as a know-it-all, or someone who is all bluff and bluster. Be polite." Then begin making contributions. Do not let your company's presence in a social networking space be intrusive, marketing heavy, or distant. Instead, act like the members of the community that are well regarded. "One of the best ways to make a name for yourself on social sites is to be generous," says O'Halloran.
"Share something of value with others, and you will soon begin to win friends and influence people. Something of value simply means that what you are offering is valuable to the recipients. It could be a great freebie, a compelling story, or a relevant article that is entertaining, interesting, or informative. The key is to choose something that will be well received by the people in your social network."
How To Like Facebook
It is true that Facebook may not be the best fit for your company. Marketing expert Jim Smith of YChange.com argues that Facebook is not as important as a company website.
"Do not get carried away by the 600 million number of users. Quality, and not quantity, should be the driving force here," he says. Many businesspeople agree, such as Emart Wholesale co-owner, Dee Traitel. "We do have Facebook and Twitter accounts," she says, "but we do not have many people following us. I do not know that our customers are very savvy with social media, or maybe they join those for their personal lives, but not for their business."
A surefire way to waste time with Facebook is to go about it the wrong way. "So back to Facebook.com, and can it work for B2B? The answer is yes, but it does come with a few caveats," says Kiar Olson, who owns an ad agency specializing in B2B marketing. He urges businesses looking at social media marketing to follow five guidelines:
- Create a "Fan" page. Do not use your personal account as a business page.
- Get followers by searching for your prospects' personal accounts, then follow them, and if they have a fan page for their company, follow their business as well.
- Do not simply list products and sales. Give personal information about something your company or an employee has done for the community, or for your business.
- Be consistent. Have new content every day.
- Use Facebook as a tactic in a marketing plan. Do not do things on Facebook that your company does not believe in.
Getting Your Company LinkedIn
There are other options for businesses, beyond the masses of people on Facebook taking funny quizzes and tending their crops on Farmville. LinkedIn is a business network designed to offer a professional way for users to connect with each other. In a new study released in March, BtoB Magazine reported that 26 percent of respondents cited LinkedIn as their most important social channel, ahead of Facebook's 20 percent. According to the report, LinkedIn, "was cited primarily for supporting lead generation." Moving beyond just a résumé site, LinkedIn is now using new content to get users to check in often. Its new LinkedIn Today feature offers a daily news digest that looks at your profile to generate a page of stories that are specific to your interests. "The whole point of products like LinkedIn Today is to keep the pulse on what your network and industries are talking about," says Deep Nishar, LinkedIn's senior VP of products and user experience, as quoted in Fast Company.
The relevance of this becomes more clear in the light of a new service LinkedIn is rolling out. LinkedIn Ads is an advertising program that lets companies put their messages in front of LinkedIn users, based on criteria such as job title, job function, industry, title, age, and gender. Now an online retailer can order up an ad campaign that targets jewelry buyers or mall kiosk owners, for example.
To Wiki Or Not To Wiki
The free online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, acts in many ways as a social network. It consists of an active community, and it is both an authority and one of the most highly trafficked sites on the Internet. For some businesses, it makes sense to consider Wikipedia as a part of a social media marketing compaign. Experts agree that there are pros and cons to getting involved. According to Todd Mintz of the Search Engine Guide, the power of, "not only targeted search traffic, but an uber-powerful, super-authority link that will help your search engine optimization efforts," should not be ignored. He offers several points to consider:
- Place your page in a page category, with links to and from other Wikipedia pages.
- Be totally objective, since any marketing-style text will be edited out anyway and just undermine your credibility.
- Cite multiple sources, especially to newspaper articles, to establish your page's notability.
- Understand how Wikipedia works. You have no ownership or control over any page you create, and it will be edited. However, it is better for you to be aware of edits and patrol them, to keep the information accurate.
However, some Wikipedia guidelines can trip up newcomers. Employees are discouraged from starting pages about their own companies. It may be more useful to edit other pages on which you have expertise, so that you build up a record as a contributor to the community. As O'Halloran of DropShipAccess.com says, "Keep it real. One of the most important things about using social networking to grow your online business is to be real. Be yourself. Never, ever try to snow people with a load of phony baloney! It won't work." Given these constraints, tread lightly. The wisest move for a novice Wikipedian is to stick to simple edits and Talk Page comments, especially when correcting an encyclopedia page that directly relates to your company. O'Halloran emphasizes the importance of offering real content that is of value to the site, not links for the sake of links.
"Some people erroneously believe that it is a piece of cake to pretend to be something or somebody they're not, because they are online and interacting with others in a virtual world instead of face to face," she says. "Do not try to pull the wool over anybody's eyes online, or you'll end up doing more harm than good for your ecommerce endeavors." That's especially true in the tech savvy community of Wikipedia.
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