Which social network is right for your business?

When it comes to social networks, one thing’s for sure—there are lots of choices. From Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn to the newbies, such as Google+ and Pinterest, you can easily spend all day online. Trust me, I know. We’ve been trying out the various social networks here and have come to some interesting conclusions about how they apply to business.

You may be asking yourself whether or not social networking is worth your time and effort. Based on my experience, I believe it is. The real question is which social networks are right for your business and what is your comfort level with expanding into this medium?

First: the options
Corey Eridon of HubSpot Blog recently wrote about the pros and cons of Pinterest and Google+ – the two newest entries into the social media landscape. Eridon notes Pinterest’s strength is in both growth and stickiness. Their 10 million plus users are spending in excess of 97 minutes on the site each time they visit! Pinterest is different from other social networks. It’s image driven and it’s exceedingly easy to share posts with other users both on-site and off-site. So, it’s great for image-heavy businesses like clothing, shoes, and vacation destinations. But, for business without visual products, making Pinterest work can be a challenge. It’s not impossible, it just means you have to be more creative. TDS is using Pinterest to show that even telecom can be fun, to highlight the beautiful locations we serve across the United States, and to focus on the diversity of our employees.

With Google+, Eridon goes on to say, the focus is on search-engine optimization, rather than images. However, visitors only spend about three minutes per visit on this platform. One of Google+’s strengths is that you can target content to specific customers or employees. Two ways you can do that is by segmenting your followers into specific circles you’ve set up and, by using my favorite feature of the site – the Google+ “hangout”. With “hangouts” you can live-chat with customers and employees about all kinds of things – introduce new products, talk “face-to-face” with off-site employees, and “meet” with customers (or potential customers) without having to travel. It’s super-easy to use. No need to pre-schedule equipment or anything. Just “call-up” those you want to chat with.

Then there’s Facebook. Yes, it keeps changing but it also keeps growing. And the growth is what makes Facebook attractive. With more than 900 million active users, Facebook prides itself on making the world more open and connected. You get to customize your page, tell your story, connect with customers, share pictures, make updates, and create milestones. There are lots of great examples to follow or, at bare minimum, to watch and learn from.

YouTube – if a picture says a thousand words than I think video simply says it all and people are proving it consuming video content at record pace. At TDS we use a YouTube channel to tackle top questions customer have, show how-to videos and share highlights and testimonials from our customers. With the subscribe feature people can follow your updates too.

With Twitter, you have 140 characters to deliver your message. Regardless of (or maybe because of) this limitation, more than 140 million people use Twitter—generating about 340 million tweets daily. Tweets are a great for quickly sharing information about your products/services, gathering real-time market intelligence, and building relationships. The challenge (or fun) is finding creative ways to boil down all your information into 140 characters. You can follow us @tdsbiz

Last, but not least, is LinkedIn—the self-proclaimed world’s largest professional network that includes more than 150 million members in 200 countries and territories. LinkedIn is all about connections to grow your business. The formula is easy: your personal connections + your connections’ connections = your ever-expanding network. TDS has formed a LinkedIn group called Small Business Solutions by TDS. We offer useful content and promote member dialogue to help you with your small business needs. Click here to see the group!

Next steps:
With a basic understanding of the most popular social networks, you’re ready to get started. First, you’ll want to spend a little time getting about a feel for these different networks and which best fits your business. Consider joining them and interacting on them if you haven’t already. Create personal pages, post updates and simply play around on them. Your goal is to discover who is on these sites and which one (or ones) might work best for your business. Don’t forget to consider the demographics of the various social networks. This element may help you choose which sites are the best fit. Remember, you don’t have to join all of them at once.

You’ll want to develop a social media plan (just like you created a business plan). Make sure you think through the process and answer these questions to help with your planning:
• Who is your target audience? Pick the medium where your prospective customers play.
• What are you offering to these prospective customers or clients? Information, products, coupons, contests? Each site varies in its functionality and this should guide your choice of site.
• What do you want these prospective customers to do? View, review, share, purchase, “like”, stalk? Have a goal in mind and determine how you’ll measure it.
• Who’s going to be responsible for your social media? How often are you going to post? What content are you going to provide? What’s your company’s online “voice” going to be? Make sure you have resource(s) to handle your social media or you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with the process.
• And, last but not least, remember that any social media engagement is a two-way street. You’re opening your company up to having regular, real-time conversations with your customers. This can be incredibly powerful for building credibility but you have to do it right. Go slowly and have fun!

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