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It’s time to move your business into social networking

Tierra Bonaldi

Are you dug on Digg?

If you are, congratulations! You’re ahead of the curve! If you’re working on it, good for you! If you don’t even know what Digg is, you may think about clipping this article and assigning the creation of a social media marketing plan to someone in your company.

Regardless of your Internet sophistication level whether scared or unsure to excited and embracing you’ve undoubtedly heard the hype around social or new media (for newcomers, we’ll get to what Digg is). A few years ago when everyone just started talking about blogs, I thought what’s the big deal? Well, what the big deal is, since then, online communication has emerged at lightning pace with not just teenagers, but also business executives and companies blogging, bookmarking, video sharing and communicating within social networks. And, now, most any comprehensive marketing plan incorporates a social media aspect. So, it’s time for you to determine, should yours?

First of all, you should of course let strategy drive this decision by examining what your objectives are, how you achieve those objectives, what tools best accomplish them and how social media fits in.

Let’s start by explaining what social media is and how it differentiates from traditional media. As described in Wikipedia, social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and “building” of shared meaning, as people share their stories and understandings.

Or basically: Utilizing weblogs, podcasts, photo and video sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr, Internet forums, wikis, email, social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, virtual world sites such as Second Life, microblogging sites like Twitter and news aggregators such as Real Simple Syndication (RSS) to gain and share information.

Social media has a number of characteristics that make it fundamentally different from traditional media such as newspapers, television, books, and radio. Primarily, social media depends on interactions between people to share and shape information. They read or watch something, quickly comment on it, and post it to be viewed by all. News is no longer bundled and unchangeable, it’s being changed and shaped and told by ordinary people just like you and I.

So, why should you care about any of these new media tools? Because they are powerful. Because traditional media outlets are losing share to social and online media spaces. And because more of your customers than you think are using them. And, not only can you reach your target audience online where they are with your message, you can learn things about them never before possible with online analytics. This valuable feedback can help shape your marketing efforts to become more effective.

Use of social media to market to consumers may seem obvious, but business-to-business marketing also has a place in this arena. LinkedIn is a great tool for connecting with other professionals, but even traditional networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have corporate profiles I came across one for Bank of America just the other day.

And when’s the last time you looked closely at YouTube? Some B2B companies might dismiss YouTube as simply a youth-oriented, amateur-video site, but it is far more than that. YouTube has turned into such a powerful and relevant social media tool that anyone can leverage its reach and viral effectiveness. There are thousands of education, science and technology, news, and how-to videos about and produced by various B2B brands and companies. For example, a quick search for “software as a service” on YouTube generated 1,220 videos. One video has been viewed more than 38,000 times!

If the largest corporate brands in American and even presidential candidates are making their important announcements on YouTube and creating Facebook profiles, isn’t it time you considered doing it yourself?

And, what about those blogs I dismissed years ago? From a business perspective there are several potential reasons to blog. But, as always, it depends on what you want. Blogs are no different from channels like video, print, audio, presentations and so on. They all deliver results but of varying kinds. What you can expect from blogs is mainly about stronger relations with important target groups. Blogs can help you become an expert in your field, can build customer and media relationships, help you recruit, test ideas or products and rank higher in search engines.

And now to news aggregators, that’s a fancy term for syndication, just like “American Idol” is produced in one place and syndicated across the country. But they allow you and others to subscribe to relevant information and receive it daily rather than searching through the massive Internet to find it. It’s like your personal wire service.

It may seem daunting, but there are some great service providers out there that make it simple to implement some of these social media strategies, many free or for a small fee. I recognize that utilizing all the media tools online to promote your company, your products or services and yourself can be a full time job, so I’ve tried to simplify some techniques that will at least get you started on your way to social marketing.

* Start an online press room that will optimize your press releases, add web feeds and social bookmarking elements to your newsroom. A great place to do this is at- http://www.press-feed.com

* Subscribe to and read news and blog Google Alerts relevant to your business or industry (www.google.com).

* Subscribe to relevant feeds. Look for the orange symbol and get a reader-bloglines and My Yahoo.

* Start a blogger relations program. Search for high profile bloggers under the Google blog search and distribute information to them just like members of the media and subscribe to and read their blogs (www.google.com).

* Shoot videos with any digital camera of your new product, your new service or a message from the president and upload it to YouTube – http://www.youtube.com. Take photos to and post them on video sharing sites. (www.flickr.com).

* Build profiles in social networks, starting with http://www.facebook.com

* Get connected with other professionals at http://www.LinkedIn.com

* Write a Blog at http://www.typepad.com

* Bookmark relevant sites and make your site easy to bookmark through http://www.Digg.com, http://www.del.icio.us.com

While the desired outcomes of these strategies will develop over time, it’s key that you begin establishing you and your company in social media spaces to connect with your consumers and provide methods for them to authentically interact with you.

Tierra Bonaldi is a partner in the Reno office of MassMedia Corporate Communications. Contact her at tierra@massmediacc.com or 322-0755.


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