Last week, this blog touched on the potential need for a professional persona (as distinct from page) within Facebook to deal with the business communication that has been taking place on what previously was thought of as more of a consumer network.
This week, I’d like to expand on the opportunities that the Groups that facilitate this communication can offer smaller business.
For the uninitiated, Groups are areas within social networks where like-minded people ‘gather’ to discuss whatever issue concerns them. In LinkedIn, there are Groups for pretty much any profession or business model you care to name. In Facebook, there are Groups for every kind of interest you can think of – from horse-riding to pole dancing.
You find these Groups by searching for the special interest in question (e.g. accountants). Then you can either immediately Like the Group or, if private, apply to join. Each Group has different joining criteria.
Recent developments within Groups are starting to make social networking an exciting opportunity for smaller business.
There are Friends in business
Previously the thinking has been that Facebook is the social network of choice for consumers and that LinkedIn – with its impressive array of business connection and community tools and features, was the business to business network.
But as this blog has surmised, few smaller business operators have warmed to LinkedIn nearly as much as larger business employees, where adoption is so staggering that it has changed the face of the recruitment industry.
It wasn’t that long ago that we extrapolated from available data that small business use of LinkedIn was as low as 2% of all small businesses. In the meantime, Facebook reaches half the population. So we are talking 11 million versus roughly 50,000.
That’s like the difference between a major television network and a regional community station.
LinkedIn for work, Facebook for pleasure?
The thing is, whilst we might keep in touch with our business worlds every now and then, Facebook and Twitter tend to be with many of us every waking hour. So if you want to put your business message out there, it makes sense to do that on the networks that everyone uses all the time, rather than the one that’s used only occasionally.
This reality has meant that business Groups are joining the hundreds of thousands of special interest Groups in Facebook. In addition to the statewide ‘I am a business owner in (add state here)’, business Groups are springing up based on industry, size, location and market.
And if there isn’t one to suit your specific needs, it takes about five minutes to set up your own!
As you can imagine in a Group of like-minded individuals, there is a strong tendency by Group members to ask for recommendations for suppliers of anything from recycled paper to management gurus.
Business leads in your News Feed
Just today for example, there were eight calls for recommendations or advice in ‘I am a small business owner in Victoria’. For a Group of only 2259 and rising, that’s pretty healthy.
In the past week I’ve generated four genuine new business enquiries from this Group alone by simply answering a query or responding to a call for suppliers. If I had more time or resources to join and monitor more Groups, I’m sure I could easily multiply this figure.
But whilst Facebook appears to appeal to smaller business operators, you might well find that LinkedIn or Twitter is more suitable and therefore successful for the market you are trying to reach.
A free, massive mailing list
This development also means that new business enquiries are not so reliant on the number of Friends or Connections you can generate. For example, you might have only a few Friends or Connections, but might belong to dozens or even hundreds of pertinent Groups.
The other benefit of Groups is that they represent a massive ‘mailing list’ to promote your blogs, articles or comments. Not only does your comment go out to what can amount to tens of thousands of recipients, search engines also are known to crawl social networks for all important ‘inbound links’ they provide when you post comments within the Group.
Who knows how many leads are in Groups that are pertinent to your business?
Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.