The great strength of social networks is that they work the way we humans do. They succeed by conversation and interaction and this explains their rapid growth. This is all great theory, but it's important for businesses to understand this principle in order to avoid the tank traps that lie in wait.
If you indulge in bare-knuckle marketing across a social network, it's a problem. There is a myriad of examples where people have got it wrong, coming from almost every point of the business compass. The core issue is anything that can be construed as blatant advertising will at best be ignored, or more likely ridiculed.
Just as with personal interactions, sensitivity needs to be brought to relationships, especially before we are on speaking terms. You need to be interesting, and you need to react to feedback.
There is another critical point to grasp: the problem of scale. It's true that you might persuade a large number of people to follow you on Twitter, you might have lots of friends on Facebook and maybe hordes might join your fan page. But why would they bother and how much work would it take to achieve this?
Taking all of this into account, here are some things not to do:
Don't aim for the stars - be realistic
There is almost an entire industry consisting of people recounting stories of how someone shot a video in their back garden, whacked it up on YouTube and after a few online mentions received a million views. Then there are marketing departments that created an online character whose regular diary attracted masses of followers and loads of press coverage, all of them intrigued by the story.
It is possible to create a viral wave of interest, but it doesn't take long to figure out that only a very small proportion of publishers can score in this way. Few attempts really catch the wave and get passed around networks of friends. It's now becoming a one in ten million shot.
Don't lose your business perspective
Social networking is about relationships, so much of the advice on the subject focuses on this topic. But you must perform a hard headed assessment of the effort versus benefit. Getting involved in social media only makes business sense when it turns a profit. It's not the concern of business to give everyone a warm fuzzy feeling. Analyse the hours spent versus the benefit received.
Don't communicate insensitively
The rules of engagement for social networking are all about participation and interaction. As a result, the quickest reputation you can build for yourself is one of crass insensitivity. If you do this, whenever anyone searches on your brand, they will find a detailed explanation of what a bad company, and person you are.
Don't ignore advertising
Like all businesses, the social networks are interested in revenue, and the fact that participation is free shouldn't confuse that issue. Their plan to monetise their network involves lifting money from your pocket. For this to succeed, they have to provide value to your business in return. The most likely way that these two objectives meet up is in advertising. Try it, as the networks really want it to work for you.
Facebook already provides advertisers with a choice of pay-per-click or pay-per-impression and Twitter now allows advertising too. Because it is early days, there is definitely scope for getting ahead of the competition.
The decisions you can make with Facebook advertising involve deciding how much to bid for each ad, and selecting on demographics that include age, sex, education, relationship status, location and interests. Plus adverts can include images so there's a lot of scope for experimenting. Facebook's own case study outlines one company where the advertising only cost 1.5% of the revenue generated. Results are likely to vary as the cynic in me says that the case study is the best possible example. However, there is the possibility of discovering, for your business, an equivalent of Google on speed.
Don't ignore your customers
It's very easy to look at how you can monetise social networks, but there's another aspect to consider. You need to keep an eye out for discussions about your company. Using this approach, you can pick up service issues before they become a problem for your reputation. In fact, by dealing quickly with complaints you may be able to portray a caring and efficient image that is very much in tune with the medium.
You also need to provide your customers with the ability to share any reviews of your product or service across Twitter and Facebook by having ‘share’ buttons on the page, like the ones above this article.
Don’t ignore the medium
To understand social networks requires a new approach. The astounding growth makes this an important field to grasp and provides opportunities to get ahead of your competitors. That’s got to be worth some consideration.