Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Which Social Network Should My Business Use?

You should use all of them and none of them!

What, that wasn't the answer you were looking for? Let me try to explain.

Social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter and MySpace all have their merits and pitfalls.

Unfortunately, building a solid community on these social networks takes time and sometimes money, both of which can be in short supply when growing a small business. So let's make a plan.

Step One: Have a great website! If your website isn't as good as it could be, concentrate your time and money here first. Ultimately investing your time in any social network contains risk. You can't necessarily control the content or popularity of the network as a whole, but you can create a community on your website. An important part of your focus while social networking is to draw visitors away from the network to your website. If you're successful, you want to make sure they will return.

Step Two: Choose one network. It's better to build a community on one network successfully before trying to do too much. Each one is different, so choose carefully. Here is some advice.

Facebook -- Facebook is ubiquitous. Estimates have total users at over 1 billion. If this is accurate, Facebook is now the second largest country on the planet behind China. They have more members than the population of India and three times more members than the population of the United States. It's estimated that 50% of all adults in the US are currently in Facebook. If your audience is international, Facebook is the place to start. It's also a good place for a new business because you can integrate Facebook features into your website.

On Facebook you will create a "page" for your business. This page becomes the community. If well done, this page can keep your customers informed and allow them to interact.
Jason Tweed on Facebook 

Twitter -- Twitter is the second largest membership website in the world. Additionally, twitter is designed as a prime referral source. A substantial number of tweets link to outside websites, where Facebook tends to favor keeping members within their website, Twitter users tend to use it in the background while browsing. Because of this, you can build a following on Twitter and easily migrate them to your own site.

Another advantage of Twitter is that it's easy to follow trends. If your business relies on hot topics or current events, Twitter is a great place to get discussions going and keep them rolling. Additionally it becomes easy because of their search features to find users that are thinking about your product right now.
The biggest disadvantage to Twitter is its virtually instantaneous life span. While the entire website is archived, twitter is about what's happening right now. As fast as the topic becomes hot, it can disappear. Twitter is great for events but not a great community for relationships that develop over time.
 Jason Tweed on Twitter: @JasonTweed
LinkedIn -- With 100 million users and growing, the third-largest network is focused on career. Business-to-business companies should seriously consider LinkedIn for their first adventure into social networking. The website is designed around connecting professionals in similar industries. Furthermore, there is a great system for developing endorsements and recommendations. Lastly, discussion groups on LinkedIn seem to flourish better than on Facebook. If your product has a distinct users group, LinkedIn has tools that will enhance your web presence.
Jason Tweed on LinkedIn  

MySpace -- MySpace is dying a slow death. So why do I mention them? Well, at their peak MySpace had 70 million users and was the largest website on the planet. The original social network spread like wildfire among young people, particularly high school students. Later many of them migrated to Facebook, but there is still a much smaller but strong community on MySpace. The diehards still use it and love it. Garage bands, tattoo studios, artists and independent musicians thrive because their audiences stayed with them. The eclectic mix of people on MySpace has survived because of the strong arts community. If your business caters to certain subcultures, you may find MySpace still has a lot to offer.
Jason no longer uses MySpace. 
Google+ -- Google+ is the newest major player, and has been growing rapidly in the past few months. Unofficial reports have them above 100 million users which could rank them third behind Facebook and Twitter.

Google+ considers themselves Facebook's more intelligent big brother. With a heavy emphasis on the tech industry, they followed the Facebook's lead by inviting a handful of people and allowing them to invite personal friends and colleagues. Facebook started at Harvard University. They expanded to Yale and Princeton, then to the rest of the Ivy League. Eventually Facebook expanded to any accredited university and then as the students graduated it became part of our American culture.
Google+ used this method starting with their own employees and hand-picked members of the tech community. It became a geek centered community. While Google+ today has spread through many aspects of the culture, it's still a very geeky place to hang out. You'll find that the most active communities are in the tech and science industries. If your business is focused on selling to geeks, dorks are nerds, start here first.
Additionally, Google+ has one other advantage. It's a hybrid between Facebook and Twitter. Facebook has a large structure of individuals who have agreed to be "friends". Twitter on the other hand allows you to follow someone, even if they don't follow you back. Google allows for both. Furthermore they organize individuals into circles so you're able to communicate with friends, followers, and unlimited other subcategories effectively.
The marketing advantage lies with companies who have multiple audiences. If you have a strong business-to-business audience, but also a strong consumer audience, and a desire to communicate very different messages, Google + can be the way to do that effectively. It's also a great way of organizing a large number of contacts into subsets.
Everyone who has a Gmail address is now able to log in to Google+. If you don't, get one at
Yep, Jason Tweed  is on Google+ too.
Pinterest -- As of this writing a brand-new player has emerged. Pinterest is an image centric community. Rather than links, people share images. In today's ADD society, it caters to people who love to stand for information. A typical Pinterest homepage shows hundreds of photos, which you can select by topic. It has a social component and that you can follow people on other social networks like Facebook.
Bloggers or anyone that creates photo heavy content should seriously consider Pinterest. An image link here can go viral, exploding traffic to your website, even without a ton of followers. However, if your website is heavily focused on the written word, Pinterest is almost useless.
It's too early to determine whether Pinterest is a passing fad or the next great resource for connecting over the web, but they can't be ignored.
Jason Tweed is just getting started with Pinterest

YouTube -- Lastly, YouTube can be a strong community. It's users tend to stay on YouTube, but video bloggers should use this as their primary resource. I view YouTube as less of a community and more as a tool to add video content to your website, however in the right situation with the right video, YouTube can become an important audience all on its own. 
Dozens if not hundreds of people started on YouTube and leveraged that into careers, particularly in the performing arts. Justin Bieber started when his mother uploaded videos of him in his living room in Canada, as a young teenager. If your goal is to be "discovered" focus on this community. Otherwise, it's still important to recognize the power of video, so you want to use YouTube as a tool and to leverage your audience to your website.
Jason Tweed is withholding his link to YouTube, because he is fixing stuff now.  

Step Three: Strengthen your brand and your community. Keep working on one community online and make sure that community reinforces your brand in a positive way. It's much easier to leverage a well-established brand, even one with a small audience, into other social networks.

Step Four: Expand carefully. The worst thing you can do is build a strong social network on one website, then ignore it when you transition to something new. After you've developed a following online social network, use that as leverage to add others.

My recommendation generally is to start with Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn. Expanding into Twitter, YouTube or Pinterest next, because these three sites support the other three very well. Once you have a strong foothold in two networks, consider expanding.
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