I think it’s safe to say by now that the ‘social networking for business’ jury is in.
All the data backs it up – social networking can provide plenty of benefits to smaller business as a low cost and creative means of promoting your business – provided you can find the time and/or resource to learn, master and maintain it.
But for those SME operators still scratching their heads as to what’s in it for them – and there are plenty of them – there’s a simple and low investment solution that will prove invaluable to the social networking future of your business.
And that’s to set up and maintain a personal Facebook page.
To many that suggestion will seem blindingly obvious. But you’d be surprised to learn just how few SME operators actually perform this fundamental social networking activity.
New tricks for older dogs
One of my clients is an older retailer and she is keen to set up her business Facebook page because ‘everyone is raving about it’ – without having set up a personal page.
However, she doesn’t have the resources to have someone manage it for her so will have to manage it herself.
In this situation, I had no hesitation in setting her the homework of learning the ropes of her personal Facebook page and start using it to find and engage with her friends before even attempting her business page.
Putting her digital toe in the water in this way will provide her with some significant benefits – as they will for you.
1. Learning what all the fuss is about
Can you imagine producing a TV ad without ever having watched TV? It’s a silly proposition really. But so is trying to understand social networking and applying it to your business without actually doing it.
Social networking is the fastest growing media phenomenon ever. To truly understand how it works and what the attraction is, it makes good sense to jump in and have a play.
2. Learning to drive
Social networking has its own language, culture and rules of engagement. By understanding how it all works you’ll find yourself picking the gist of it up pretty quickly and then be able to find out how your business fits in.
One of the most valuable lessons is to follow other business pages and study what they are doing and how their followers are responding.
3. Promoting your business
Whilst engaging on a personal level, there’s nothing to stop you posting about goings on in your business life.
The same rules apply to online social networking as they do socialising. By all means talk about your business but don’t be overt or pushy or you will soon be the death of the party.
4. Determining the suitability of Facebook for your business
As discussed here previously, Facebook is not for all businesses. Consumer facing businesses with a high degree of personal interest (e.g. music, fashion, sport, venues, authors, etc) tend to gain the most followers because they are seen as passions and pastimes more than actual businesses or organisations.
By engaging with the Facebook community you will soon sense whether your business will benefit from an active presence or not.
5. Reducing egg-on-face syndrome
For those that don’t know what they’re doing, and even for those that do, it’s incredibly easy to post something within a social network that at best is a little embarrassing, at worst a PR disaster.
By getting your sea legs on your personal page, you will get insights into how a stray comment can come back to bite you, but at least limit it to your friendship network instead of finding out the hard way and have business customers and prospects see it on your business page.
6. General practice for your business page
Once you’ve engaged for a while, picked up some friends and generally got a feel for how it all works, you’ll find the transition to your business page a relatively simple one.
Soon enough you’ll be posting useful information to your followers that will in turn be ‘viralled’ and magically attract more ‘likes’ without even thinking about it.
As is often the case with simply playing with technology, you will gain insights that you had never considered before and start to become creative and even excited by the possibilities.
And of course when in doubt, just ask the nearest teenager for assistance.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.