Using social networks can make you stand out from your competitors. Engaging with your customers online can raise awareness and build your reputation as a trusted supplier. Social networks give your business an opportunity to gain new contacts from the comfort of your office. Don’t underestimate the savings in cost, time and other resources such as travel that not having to attend a physical networking event can bring to your enterprise.
Social networking can improve your business in a number of key areas:
- brand building
- customer interaction
- locating strategic commercial partners
- gathering business intelligence
When choosing which social media platform to use, it’s important to understand where your customers are. You should target your efforts towards the channels they use. In some cases, you will find your best choice is obvious – for example, you may already know that there is a group on Facebook that reflects your business interests and is used by your customers.
You may find you need a combination of social media channels to cover all your needs.
Blogging involves posting regular stories, pieces of commentary or other content to a website, which can be accessed and read by customers and other industry professionals. Most blogs are interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments and message each other.
By creating thought-provoking posts on industry issues, you can build a reputation as an authority in the field, stimulate discussion and strengthen your relationship with customers. Blogging also provides another route for potential customers to find you if they’re not aware of your website.
Online PR may include engaging or responding to blogs that are not your own, with the intent of marketing or advertising your product or service. You will need to pay attention when choosing the blog you wish to engage so that you have the right target audience. See our guide on PR: the basics.
Social network channels
Social network services are online platforms, which allow people to create a profile representing themselves, and connect with others to broadcast information, stay in touch, send messages and recommend one another.
You could either join a general social networking site – such as Twitter or Facebook – or a specialist site for professionals and businesses such as LinkedIn.
Social network channels allow you to build a community of engaged customers who will spread your news and information for you. They can also help you get answers to business questions and find new suppliers.
Having a presence on a social networking channel can keep you on your industry map with relatively little time and effort.
An internet forum, or message board, is an online facility where people can ask questions and hold discussions by posting and replying to messages. Participating in industry and consumer forums to share your expertise and give constructive advice can boost your reputation.
Many forums are moderated (that is, messages are approved before they appear online) so you will need to think carefully about how you present any sales messages. Responding on a forum purely to post sales messages will not impress potential customers and may get your messages rejected or even banned.
Even if you do not want to market directly to the social web, it is important to listen to what people are saying about your brand online. Using free tools like Google Alerts and TweetBeep you can track key words and phrases, so that you can follow the conversations that people are having about you.
Target and position
Once you have started to listen, you need to decide which social media platforms are best for your business. Where is your audience and what are they talking about? You need to identify what their ‘passion points’ are, so that you can engage with them in an engaging and meaningful way.
Once you start talking to your audience you need to identify who the ‘influencers’ are – these are the people who post regularly, who receive a lot of comments from others or are linked to in other people’s content. These types of users can help you communicate to a wider audience.
Use your presence to engage with the community and open up a dialogue with customers. By listening and responding to what people have to say, rather than just pushing sales messages, you can gain valuable insights and build trust in your brand. It is important to say something regularly.
Think about the ‘tone of voice’ that you use in your content – customers will trust you more if they feel that you are honest, responsive and engaging in your interactions with them.
It is important to address any negative feedback quickly and honestly. Responding thoughtfully to negative feedback, resolving customer problems and apologising – sincerely – can go a long way toward limiting damage.
Assess any impact that negative feedback may have to your search engine ranking. It is important to ‘own’ your ranking in universal search, so if negative links begin to be displayed for your brand, you will need to address this. See our guide on search engine optimisations
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