I recently wrote a piece demonstrating how companies can use social media and networking sites to help
control their online reputations. I want to take this a step further and describe some of the benefits social media sites are providing for small to medium sized businesses (SMBs). Some of the most popular
sites include Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, and YouTube
however, it does not stop there as the list of sites is nearly an endless with new ones coming on board all the time. Even eBay and Netflix have jumped on the social bandwagon, allowing users to create social
media profiles within their accounts. It probably won't be too long before every site has some sort of social media or networking aspect built into it. This leads to the question of "what opportunities are
available in this space to help SMBs?"
1. Branding Opportunities
In the same manner that it is important for companies to make sure they have all the various domain names that relate to their brand (.com, .net. .org, etc.), it is now becoming important for companies to make sure they secure their brand on social media sites - at least the popular ones. I wrote about this subject at the beginning of this year and made the following statement:
With all the social networking sites popping up everywhere, the idea of branding comes to mind. Sure there is the thought of how web sites can draw traffic from social networking sites, even sell product or services but in addition to that, what about protecting your brand before someone else beats you to it? This is especially important with respect to user names and unique URLs.
It was important back then and is even more important now. Typical with most social media sites, once you create a profile, you have a unique URL where you can access that profile. That URL, if you set it up correctly, will include your brand name (i.e. www.linkedin.com/in/searchrank, www.flickr.com/people/searchrank, etc.). The brand name is also used in the title tag of your profile. Why is this important? As I wrote in my last piece on social media, having a number of profiles spread out among various social media sites may help you to have better control over the first three pages of search results for your unique brand name. It also may help users of specific social media sites to find your company if they are actually looking for your brand. Finally, you keep competitors from sitting on your brand and/or people that may misrepresent your brand as I have seen in many cases.
2. Build Link Popularity
Websites essentially need three things if they are to experience good visibility in the search engines - 1.) good content, 2.) good SEO and 3.) good links. There are two ways to get links from other sites - naturally or pay (or beg) for them. Buying them is the easiest but due to Google's recent declaration of war on paid links, they can fall prey to their big guns. So, natural is and always has been the best.
One way to obtain natural links is to link back to your original web site within the social media sites you set up. Many social media sites will allow you to include a blurb about yourself or your company and in many cases, add a link or links to your sites. Once you get these various social media profiles indexed, they will count as inbound links to your main site. You may even find it useful to include specific anchor text related to keyword phrases you wish to target and point them to pages that have been optimized for those same terms. The bottom line is that social media profiles create opportunities for natural links. Best of all, they're free!
3. Attracting Traffic
Depending on the industry you are in, social media and networking sites can send quality traffic to your site. In one example, music and entertainment entities are successfully using MySpace to attract its millions of users. How many times have you seen movie URLs that are located on the myspace.com domain? Now if you manufacture and sell contemporary furniture, then you may not benefit much from MySpace traffic seeing its demographic is mostly comprised of youth but you may draw traffic from a photo sharing site like Flickr.
In another example, many companies are using YouTube to attract and drive traffic to their web site. BlendTec is a good case study of this with their "Will It Blend" videos, a series of short videos where they blend everything from golf balls to credit cards to even an iPhone in their industrial strength blenders. People just love to see stuff demolished and the videos have brought much attention to a blending product that many were unaware of prior to seeing the videos.
These are just a couple of many examples of how companies are utilizing social media to drive traffic to their sites. A good strategy is to select sites that are somehow specific to your industry and then let the creative juices flow. The bottom line is that just like millions of people are using search engines everyday, millions of people are using social media and networking sites as well. Creative marketers will discover ways to tap into these users in order to drive additional traffic to their web sites.
4. Interaction With the Public
The reason why it is called "social" is because it allows web users to socialize or interact with each other. This has been one of the biggest fears keeping small to medium sized business from embracing social media - the transition from "talking to" customers to "interacting with" customers. SMBs may be afraid that someone is going to talk about their businesses and it may not always be favorable. If this is your fear then I have news for you - consumers are already talking so you might as well join the conversation.
Having the ability to interact with consumers is not just about dealing with bad mojo but also taking advantage of social media to bring further attention to products, services, company news or even put a personal face on the company. I reveal personal things all the time about myself and my company and have received numerous compliments from clients stating that they feel more comfortable doing business with us due to the fact that they now know something personal about us.
5. Networking Opportunities
A final reason how SMBs can benefit from social media is the networking opportunities. Trying to be the lone ranger of your industry is not always the most productive way of running your business. Personally, I have discovered many benefits from networking with others in my industry and getting well connected. Many social networking mediums offer opportunities to join specific groups of interest where you can then interact with like-minded people. Facebook is a great example of this - not only can you join groups, you can create new ones, add events and even build interactive applications that run within the Facebook environment.
For me, many of the social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, have allowed me to develop numerous relationships which are not only beneficial in day to day operations, but especially rewarding when attending industry conferences. The conference becomes more like a family reunion than a boring, uninvolved trade show.
How To Get Started
My recent post, "Using Social Media To Help Manage Online Reputation" contains information in the latter part of the article on how to get the ball rolling including a list of some of the top social media/networking sites, how to properly set up a profile and even more importantly, how to get those profiles indexed. Don't just stop at the top sites but look for social media and networking sites within your niche. Then make sure you use a good web analytics program to monitor activity from your involvement in the social space. Who knows, you may start to love social media so much that you begin to adapt social media and networking functions into your own site. Hint - a blog that allows commenting is a great place to start.
Small business owners, don't be afraid of social media but rather embrace it. In a lot of ways, it has once again allowed SMBs to compete with the giants. Therefore rather than ignore it (it is not going away), be creative as to how your business might benefit from it.
I've listed 5 ways SMBs can benefit from social media, however I'm sure there are many more. I'd love to hear comments from others on ways you have benefited from the social media/networking space.
David Wallace is CEO and founder of SearchRank, an original search engine optimization and marketing firm based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is experienced in search engine optimization and marketing, pay per click and pay for inclusion management, directory submissions and web site design usability. David is a frequent contributor to various search engine related forums, an active editor of popular directories such as GoGuides.org, Joe Ant and Zeal and has had several articles published on industry related sites. Since 1997, David along with his company have helped hundreds of businesses both large and small increase their search engine visibility and customer acquisitions.
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