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Social Networking – Can Your Company Afford Not to Engage?

Twitter. Facebook. YouTube. If I said these words to you years ago you would have looked at me like I was crazy! The aforementioned are websites used to fuel the social networking phenomenon. In case you are not aware of how social networking sites function, people use these sites to form associations with others that share the same personal or professional interests. Millions of people are using these sites to keep in touch with their families and friends.

Now companies are jumping on the bandwagon and incorporating social networking sites into their marketing campaigns. Although, social networking is relatively new, it is travelguidebook  gaining status as a new way for companies to effectively market their products and services because of the following:

Interactive
Cost effective
Ability to market 24/7
Interactive
The main purpose of a marketing campaign is to promote your product or service to your target market. What better way to reach your target market than on their own turf? Years ago the typical marketing campaign would have consisted of direct mail, print advertising, and if you could afford it TV or radio ads. One thing all of the aforementioned mediums fail to do is to encourage participation.
Social networking sites enable you to instantaneously connect with your target market and receive feedback regarding your product and service. Regardless of what social networking site your company decides to join, all of them will enable you to foster a closer relationship with your customers-the degree in which this is accomplished rests solely upon your company. Consumers are already doing what they intended to do on these-connect with family and friends-you (companies) are the new kid on the block so it is up to you how you want others to perceive your brand.

An organization’s objectives for how to incorporate social networking into their marketing campaigns often differ. For example, Beth Bridges, Membership Director of Clovis Chamber of Commerce states that, “Our objective in using social networking is to create a trusted community and to increase awareness of their events within the community. We also use social networking sites to have more personal interaction with members who we might not see at regular networking activities and reach more of the younger business owners in the community who are using social media much more extensively to promote themselves and their businesses.”

It is a safe bet that the majority of companies that are new to social networking may be tempted to mention their product every five minutes on these sites-it is in your best interest not to do so. I realize that many organizations’s main objective for using social networking sites is to promote their product. I am not telling you to abandon your objective-just alter the method in how you choose to do so.
People use products and services for different reasons and you will never know any of them if you do not take the time to foster a relationship with your target market. Many have been conditioned into thinking that companies could care less about their customers so it is up to your company to prove them wrong. Those who successfully do will reap the benefit of loyal customers. These customers will then share your product or service with their family and friends. It is more effective if you let your target market promote your product for you.

Word of mouth continues to be an important factor in whether consumers and businesses purchase a product or service. Many people consult with family and friends before purchasing a product or service they have never used. People are always asking others for advice on products and services on Twitter. Not too long ago, I went on Twitter to get feedback on software I was considering purchasing and got a response within seconds. This person not only commented about the software I was considering purchasing but recommended alternative software that was cheaper and more robust. Everyone desires to feel confident about the purchases that they make and although they may conduct some research of a product or service (i.e. Consumer Reports) it does not carry as much weight as family or friends.

Cultivating a relationship will enable you to stay ahead of the competition-provided you are listening to your target market. Social networking sites allow you the ability to gauge if you are effectively promoting your product or service to your target market. Based upon conversations in the forums you have the ability to find out what needs are not being met and create a service to meet that need. Social networking enables you to discover opportunities.

For example, you own a coffee shop near a college campus and have established an account on a social networking site. Students are complaining about not having a place to study during final exams and how they love your coffee because it not only tastes great, but helps them stay awake. How could you use this information? A savvy marketer would find out when final exams take place and expand their hours in order to meet the needs of their customers. It is a win-win situation for all involved. The students have a place to study while drinking your excellent coffee and you have the opportunity to increase your profits while further developing your customers’ loyalty to your coffee shop. This opportunity was brought to you by social networking. If your company had not taken the time to interact with your target market using social networking sites your company would have missed out on a golden opportunity to fulfill a need not being met by other coffee shops.

Armed with the knowledge of who you are trying to target, you will be able to determine which of the most popular social networking sites your target market will be found chatting with their family and friends. Although all social networking sites enable you to be interactive, the degree to which you are able to do so is based upon the application you choose. Some of the most popular sites companies are using to advertise their product are as follows:

-Twitter: This is an online micro blog website that integrates with your computer, cell phone and other online social networking sites. Twitter simply asks you, “What are you doing?” You are able to share your thoughts (also known as “tweets”) provided they are under 140 character restriction. People can choose to “follow” you based upon your tweets.

-Facebook: This website allows users to create customized profiles sharing information, photos, videos etc. and has applications that are designed specifically to their site. Facebook users can see only the profiles of confirmed friends and the people in their networks. Friends can look at each others pages and comment on their “wall” (this is a spot where comments can be viewed by others.

-MySpace: This website allows you to stay in touch with friends and meet new people. You have the ability to add new friends based upon the information posted on your space.

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