Social Media: what to choose and how to use it

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Steven Parham takes a look at social media and how it can help your business on an ongoing basis.  

From advertising and promotion, to relaying information about products and services, every social media feed has a specific purpose and target audience.  Here, he looks at how you can utilise these and make the most of what’s out there.

Introduction

Social media is is the catch all term for online marketing. It is all about building relationships and helping businesses engage with their customers and prospects. By creating and maintaining online profiles we can promote our clients in a world where people are choosing to spend their time online. It collectively is a marketplace online full of untapped potential for your business.

Social Media Promotion: What is it ?

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are big business; most peoples’ clients and their future prospects spend time on average at least on two of these sites daily. The aim of a a strong social media strategy is to get ourselves noticed by our clients and potential market, increase sales and in turn, make a profit. Social media is here to stay. The industry is young and yet, many businesses have not yet embraced the marketing power it can bring.

Businesses can benefit from using social media promotion by:

• Increasing their website traffic
• Creating strong, lasting customer relationships
• Promoting their products and services to a wider audience
• To prove to the world at large that they can compete with multinational corporations at a comparable level
• Promoting their brand to their target audiences

Social media strategies can be thought of in terms of what you are trying to do with your brand. If you want to maintain a certain level of internet presence, then in the trade, this is known as ‘humming’: occasional posts on Facebook and Twitter, keeping your customers in the loop, and hopefully attracting new ones in the process.

In an ideal world, you should hum daily, that is, promote tactical messages about your products and services, content and any news that you might want to promote. Singing should be at least once a month, about special features and useful information for your customers. For example, The Starjammer Bulletin pushes useful content to its subscribers and readers on social media on average every 2 to 3 days. That is Starjammer singing about what it does and hopefully we give you a few interesting snippets along the way.  In other words, a way of sharing customer experiences, testimonials; anything that engages, aligns and creates a bond to our brand.

You can also use these techniques.  The best strategy is to use these techniques in a threefold way: to energise your existing customers and audience into participating with you, increase your market presence and increase your chances of your customers preferring your brand and services. You can hum daily with Facebook and Twitter posts, or sing monthly with a video on YouTube.  By using a specific social media feed for multimedia content, you can then shout and go mad with the whole lot for a couple of days.

What’s the game plan?

So, now you have decided to use social media, what’s the overall game plan? Simple. You have to nurture, develop and maintain your clients using your social media presence, by regularly updating your social media profiles with new, engaging and possibly thought provoking or even humorous content that will spark debates and reactions. Engage your audience!

Your aim as always is to push your business forward in the marketplace, and make sure that your brand is recognised as an authority in its field through increased exposure.

For some, social media promotion for businesses can be a time consuming exercise. Building relationships and responding to questions, and regularly creating new and engaging content all takes time and effort. A lot of companies specifically employ companies to perform SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) to promote their brands, and to be honest you get what you pay for.

If you invest £100 a month in SEO, you will rarely get back what you invest. Some companies pay large sums of money per year to push their brands up through Google’s ranks, only to be knocked down again, because Google has changed its criteria for search engine rankings yet again.

Another thing to consider is how each of these sites engage with their audience.  For example, Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest are visual by nature – hence their use is predominantly mobile based, whereas Facebook, LinkedIn and Tumblr require more of an input from the user in terms of interaction, layout and searching; hence why the PC, laptop and tablet usage is higher than the usage for the equivalent apps on mobile phones.Slide2The main players: an introduction to what’s out there

OK, here’s a crash course in Social Media: this is your battlefield.

Facebook

The biggest social network of all time. Some say it may be on it’s way out. On the contrary, it’s merely changing with the times. Even so, it still manages to court controversy, most recently with the infamous online research into peoples’ moods by looking at their status updates. Also, their terms and conditions have caused consternation in the past, particularly in relation to who owns the content. In theory, if you have posted all of your personal photos online, Facebook has the legal right to use these for their own corporate use. We won’t go into too much detail here, as Facebook is by far the main player and most people know the story behind it.

Twitter

color-twitter-128Twitter is a lot more succinct than Facebook, as you can only say stuff in 140 characters or less, although judging by recent reports this may change to 10,000 before 2016 is out. You can post images and links, ‘retweet’ other peoples’ tweets and message someone by typing their online Twitter handle with an ‘@’ symbol, eg: @bonzo, @fatnigel @Your Mum. Trending is another thing Twitter is good for; any subject can be ‘hash tagged’, eg: #theeconomy, #bigbrother, #yourmum, in order for it to trend. Trending in Twitter is an important indicator of how big or important a social commentary is getting. Recent examples of trending stories being the Oscar Pistorius trial and the World Cup. As a result of hashtagging, Twitter effectively murdered one of its rivals. More on that later.

LinkedIn

A grown up version of Facebook for businessmen and businesses. Basically, anybody who’s anybody should be on there if they want to network and grow their business, or find the right role for themselves. Think of it as an online CV, where previous employees and peers can endorse you for your skills, and give virtual references that can be displayed on your profile of how good you are at what you do. These are called endorsements.

On LinkedIn you make connections. Your first degree connections are people who you know directly and are connected with (your connections). The second degree connections are people that you might know (your connection’s connections), and third degree connections are those that your connection’s connections are connected to…in other words, degrees of separation. This is known by some as ‘the circle of trust’. LinkedIn (always spelled without the space) also enables users and companies to create group and company pages. People can be tracked down by trade, university affiliation or by company.

Users can also throw in open ended questions or posts that are visible to their circle, in the hope that they can engage their peers and the connections of their peers. In other words, LinkedIn enables its users to engage and inform potential business customers and partners.

You Tube

google-128The social media big gun. This is where the term ‘viral’ can definitely be applied. Viral adverts or films can sometimes have more effect than a simple Tweet or Facebook comment; the links to You Tube can be ‘retweeted’, and in turn…you get the jist. Best used for multimedia where broadcasting snippets of material is useful in promoting an idea, for example, the 21st Century Fox Jingle played on a recorder, which is hilarious. You’ll want to share that with your friends. And that’s the point.

Companies can set up their own pages and share video content and tutorials. Content can be disseminated quickly and effectively, be it a five minute lesson in how to use a tool in a specific way, or a guide to etiquette when trading in Outer Mongolia. Knowledge and promotion can be cast out onto the internet, and people respond to it. Somebody posts a video link on Facebook to YouTube, and the chances are, at least three or four people will click on that link and respond to it.

Vimeo

vimeoVimeo is, like YouTube, a video-sharing site where users can upload and share video content.  In 2007, just two years after YouTube was launched, Vimeo was the first video site to support high-definition video.  The subscription service allows content to be uploaded and viewed, which is ideal for amateur movie makers (coincidentally, Vimeo is an anagram of movie).

Snapchat

Snapchat is a social media application that allows the user to create multimedia messages, or ‘snaps’.  These can be a photo taken by a mobile phone, or a short video – filters, special effects and titles can be added, as well as geofilters.

Snaps can become chained content awhich can be shared if desired with your contacts either simultaneously all at the same time or individually in private.

What makes Snapchat unique is that the private snaps become inaccessible after a certain period of time.  The application is primarily popular with the so called ‘Millenials’, those born around the turn of the century.

Pinterest

Pinterest_FaviconThis allows people to pin stuff on their pinboard so that they can inflict the stuff that they look at on their mates, and then arrange these into themes.

Good for artists, philosophers, designers and suppressed kleptomaniacs.

    

Instagram

imagesA relative newbie on the scene. This integrates with the other social network scenes by allowing the user to take their own pictures, whack them through a filter, such as turning a photo from 2014 to look like one taken in 1970 using a Box Brownie camera first used by your parents. Currently very much in vogue and growing in popularity, especially when used on a mobile phone.

MySpace

2000px-Myspace.svgCurrently very out of vogue and perhaps dying a horrible slow lingering death is MySpace. The original concept was quite sound; you have a personal profile that you can edit, and put pictures on, whereupon you can make friends with people that your mum would probably never approve of, and most importantly, share new music. A bit like an online mix tape.

Unfortunately Facebook came along and jumped up and down on it; MySpace fell down the Alexa Rankings (a wing of Amazon.com that provides stats on web traffic data), and failure to keep up with the Big F meant that it devalued both financially and in terms of street cred. Still around, but for social media purposes, is not what it was. Unless you’re a rock star…aiming low…

Google Plus

google_bpThis is more perhaps what Facebook should have been…a social layer, a substrate to e-mail, where you can set up personal and other networks that you control.

Although this is not as exciting as Facebook, it does appear to have staying power. This may one day even take over from Facebook.

It certainly has the financial clout to do it with Google backing it. And the interface is simple to use, and due to recently purchased You Tube, setting up a You Tube account in conjunction with Google Plus gives you a certain flexibility and credence.

Deviant Art

logo_deviantart_logo_png_by_aguslove15-d62ki3dThis is one of the more interesting social networks. This allows artists to peer review their work online. Effectively using the Creative Commons Licenses, artist have the right to choose how their artwork is used, and can do so online with the recognition they seek. It allows artists to peer review each others work, and in some cases, artists have been employed as a result of networking on the site.

As a result of it’s own artistic nature, it too is constantly evolving artistically, a gestalt of its users. One to watch and not be dismissed.

Live Journal

LivejournalLive Journal is very popular in Russia, but gaining more of a foothold here and in continental Europe. This allows users to share their journal, and for their friends to comment on their entries. It is a fusion of the blog and the social network, which really is a direct digital descendant of the personal diary.

It has also courted controversy, as much as Facebook has, in terms of freedom of expression versus the right to post certain content. This had led the site being banned in countries such as China and Kazakhstan, and numerous lawsuits against errant bloggers.

Tagged

tagged_logoThis allows users to tag their friends and share information, such as the latest film, tune, etc.. Virtual gifts and chat rooms are the name of the game here.

Tagged has done well in the Facebook age, but has been slapped by the authorities several times for dubious practices such as bulk and deceptive e-mails.

Cafe Mom

cafemomCafe Mom is an interesting concept. Originally designed with new mums as a support network, the site evolved due to the pharmaceutical companies partly funding it through advertising.

For those targeting a family audience or the parents of newborns, one to watch.

Ning

ninglogoNing is an unusual approach to Social Networking. It allows users to create their own social networking sites, designed to spec. Ning is the Chinese word for ‘peace’. This allows its users to create their own specific usergroups and social networks within a social network. The site allows users to design and implement a sort of microsite within Ning that subscribers and invitees can go onto.

The main difference with Ning is that it is now a paid service. You have to subscribe to use this, a big disadvantage over the big three, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

ningpage

Meetup

meetup-logoMeetup was created by Scott Heiferman in response to the manner in which New Yorkers reacted and came together in community spirit in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks (another name spelled without a space inbetween words), acts as a portal for people wanting to set up offline meetings in various places around the globe.

Meetup members can set up groups in terms of interests, orientation, hobbies, anything at all really.

Users set up their accounts and the site uses their post code to tell them about events in their local area that might be of interest to them. From there on, it’s up to the user to arrange with the other users the time and place to meet. Administrators of groups are charged for the use of the site.

It has not been without it’s problems. Meetup has been the victim of two Denial of Service attacks that in both instances forced it offline.

Ask.FM

askfmAsk FM allows users to ask questions and answers socially, and if desired, anonymously. It has seen astonishing growth in the last few years. It allows users to set up a profile and then ask questions, almost like a running stream of consciousness. ‘Who thinks the next pope will be a woman?’, ‘Who will win the world cup’…’Do you like my new look?’. Users can post pictures and media content which other users can then comment upon.

In principle, an interesting site, but again, not without controversy.  Ask FM has been criticised heavily for cyberbullying amongst users that led to teenage suicides, and severity of content, particularly with regards to censorship. Because of the anonymity option, it has also been alleged that the international terrorist group ISIS has used the site to recruit and pass on useful terrorist strategies online without detection.

Tumblr

Tumblr is something of an oddity. It is a microblogging platform that allows users to post multimedia and content into what is essentially a blog, albeit in short form via a dashboard interface.

Microblogs can be followed, made private or public, and come in all shapes and forms. Variety is the key here – your average Tumblr user is quirky, non conformist. Currently there are nearly 193 million bloggers that use Tumblr. Yahoo bought the company in May 2013 for $1.1 billion dollars.

The has beens – what was then, but isn’t now

If you think social networking is very much a modern fad, you be surprised. Throughout much of the internet’s history, there has been a social net of one form or another. It’s a network, therefore social groups were always going to evolve within it as part of the norm. But even so, things change, and sometimes what starts off as a brilliant idea often ends its days in obscurity and a slow painful death.

Bulletin Boards – Cat Chat and Cheeseplant’s House

Both examples of Multi User Dungeons (or MUD), a late 1980s phenomenon, CAT Chat was the very first internet based chat room/multiuser experience platform and in some ways, a social network way before World of Warcraft and other Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). Created way back in 1990 by Chris Thompson at the University of Warwick, CAT Chat as a MUD, where students could assume alter egos and muck about basically. Many a romance, new friendship or the odd spliff was passed around late at night by those in the know.

Collectively known as a talker, in effect CAT Chat provided Instant Messaging before people modern instant messaging was thought of, over JANET, the Joint Academic NETwork, one of the precursors of the modern internet as you know it. For reasons lost in obscurity, CAT Chat was inexplicably shut down and Cheeseplant’s House took its place. Created by Daniel Stephens to fill the void, was very popular thoroughout 1991-92, when it too was shut down for all sorts of reasons levelled at the site.

Stephens survived the academic fallout due to legal loopholes and the dubious behaviour of some of the Computer Science officials that shut the MUD down in the first place. Cheeseplant’s House lived on in spirit, if never to return.

mud-pic

Friends Reunited

friends-reunited-logoThe granddaddy of them all if you live in the United Kingdom. For many this was the very first taste of social networking in the modern World Wide Web age. The website was devised by Steven and Julie Pankhurst, and old schoolfriend Jason Porter in 1999.

A British version of Classmates.com, the site was officially launched in 2000, at the end of which it had 3000 subscribers. By the end of 2001, it had 2 ½ million. It merged with other foreign sites in 2005 whereupon it kept its name and basic functionality. The Pankhursts and Porter sold Friends Reunited to ITV later that year for £120 million.

By 2008 however, Facebook had stolen a march on pretty much every social networking site, practically burying Friends Reunited overnight and MySpace, and played a large part in financially crippling ITV, along with a slump in advertising due to the recession.

Friends Reunited’s core focus shifted from allowing users to find old schoolfriends and work colleagues to allowing users to share memories of the past. The adjustment caused many users to abandon it in droves and according to DC Thompson, the brand was ‘no longer considered an integral part of the direction was to be re-incubated elsewhere in the DC Thomson company’. Finally in February 2016 the site was finally shut down.

Bebo

Bebo was founded by Michael and Xochi Birch in 2005, and if you’re wondering where the name came from, it’s an acronym; ‘Blog Early, Blog Often’. Users could set up a profile page, post multimedia and publish questionnaires on the site.

Again, another place where controversy arose from cyberbullying and stalker accusations, and due to good old Facebook, the original site died a painful protracted death.

America OnLine (AOL) purchased the site in 2008 for $850 million – some consider this decision to be one of the worst deals in dotcom history. It cost the then Chief Executive of AOL Randy Falco his job. In 2010, AOL were looking for buyers or to kill it completely. They then sold it to a hedge fund operator who relaunched it in 2011, but due to a system crash in late January 2012, or ‘Technical Clusterf***’ as one spokesperson for Bebo put it, the site was offline for 36 hours.

beboiconnewTwitter users practically went in for the kill, as the hashtag #bebomemories trended worldwide. The hedge fund that bought Bebo went bust, as people believed that Bebo was gone forever. Bebo was bought for $1million last summer by…Michael and Xochi Birch the original creators. Ironically they tweeted “We just bought back Bebo for $1m. Can we actually reinvent it? Who knows but it’ll be fun trying’. A couple of years down the line and it is still offline…but it’s Twitter account is very active, and there are apps for it, so who knows quite what the future holds for it?

Orkut

Google born Facebook clone that was popular especially in Brazil and Japan. Named after it’s creator, Bob*. This had a similar functionality to Facebook, and was in some respects, pretty much the same beast with a different face.

Again, not without controversy, Orkut had been at the centre of legal battles, banned by some countries, and fake profiles created to cause racial and religious incitement.  Google finally took it offline in 2014.

The pros and cons of Social Media

One of the older mechanisms on the web for retransmitting constantly updated information such as blogs and news feeds is Really Simple Syndication. A website can syndicate itself or in turn show syndicated material by using a few simple tags. One of the upshots of RSS was the birth of podcasting. Your website can feed your social media.

In short, the three most widely used social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – in social media circles, the big three or the holy trinity. The others (even some of the nearly extinct ones) still have their parts to play. Most companies with an online presence nearly always use the main three, but it is always worth considering the fringe benefits of using one of the others. Why?

Well, know your audience. If you run an arts and craft site, the addition of an Instagram page to the holy trinity or a link to Deviant Art is probably a good move. If you have an adventure sports site, then maybe a You Tube link to show what your company does will be a bonus. It’s all about content and how you deliver and use it.

You can push content out on a number of platforms, with a number of apps simultaneously. So, you only need to fire off a tweet on Twitter, and your Facebook and LinkedIn pages are updated automatically. The ability to do this on multiple platforms is useful, because it saves you time and money. And you reach that many people that much faster. And that’s what it’s all about. Using the right social media platform for the right job, like any other business tool.

Multimessage on multiple platforms simultaneously

Google Analytics is a very useful tool for monitoring a website’s performance. And the best thing is, it’s free to use. This not only tells you when someone has visited your site and when, it also gives you a number of figures to determine your social media strategy. For example, if people are visiting your site because of a remark made at a particular time on Twitter, it will log it. From the charts generated, you can work out how to tweak your social media strategy to work for you. Perhaps you have more of a following on Twitter than Facebook.

hootsuite_logo_owly_detailOr, a video posted by you on You Tube was seen 12,000 times and visitor traffic for your site increased for the next few days by 15%.

From the statistics generated, you can spot trends and failing strategies. And the best bit is that Google Analytics sends regular updates to your email in a concise, easy to read format.

Hootsuite is a fantastic tool for controlling all of your social media feeds.  By setting up and subscribing, you can control all of your social media feeds from the Hootsuite dashboard, time and schedule tweets and posts, look at how your delivering content and generate statistics on your social media traffic.  It also integrates seamlessly with other media tools such as Mailchimp. Hootsuite uses its own URL shortener, ow.ly which enables you to truncate URLs which are submitted or added to messages.

Strategies and long term goals  

Your first and main strategy is to build and engage your audience, and once you have that audience, to keep it. You need to make your brand or what you have to offer desirable, so increase the chatter to your sites by spreading positive rumours about what you are going to do next. People are always excited to know where the next big thing is coming from, and if you can give them a sneak preview, your loyal customers will do the shouting online for you. Register users on mailing lists, so that you can keep your brand in the forefront of their minds when it comes to the crunch.

Target the audience that most likes what you do, your target demographic; it could be the 21 to 28 year olds, first job seekers, those almost on the housing ladder, or those that like products similar to yours. Then you need to generate content, such as infographics (pictures with statistics and processes), that can say what you need said. Then you can use your audience and customers to help drive that content with testimonials, positive stories and if you’re lucky, it could go viral. Use multimedia to good effect, and by keeping your audience onboard with content such as videos  and maybe the odd fun customer survey. Run teaser campaigns occasionally to engage and even infuriate your audience.

In social networking, you need to build both vertical and horizontal partnerships – that is to say, your customers are your vertical market. They will sell you or bury you, depending upon how you perform and treat them. Horizontal partnerships happen when you collaborate with other parties like yourself that have similar interests and goals, in order that you can tap into other markets.

So, hum, shout or sing…social media is here to stay. Make the most of your options.

* Only mucking about.  His name was Orkut Büyükkökten.  But we preferred Bob.

Useful Links

Mashable’s Guide to Social Media

Daniel Stephens account of Cheeseplant’s House

The sad slow and predictable death of Friends Reunited

Google Analytics

Start-up corner: Starting a business on a small budget

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