Now I'd like to talk about how. How does one do this? It all starts with knowing which tools are most useful for your business. In fact I'm often asked "what are the best online marketing tools for small businesses?". I'll save that question for another post. For now let's focus on a subset of that - what are the best social media marketing tools for small businesses?
First let's take stock. Here is a list of some of the most popular social media tools (at least in the US market, in other countries it's a different story mind you). I want to give a nod to Seattle based Creativetechs for doing the thinking and the legwork to gather these sites into tidy categories!
LinkedIn Facebook Myspace Friendster Hi5 Google Profiles
All of these tools enable you to interact with people but in each group a different kind of content is the focus.
Social Directories — in some ways the simplest because it is the content focus is YOU. Each individual creates a profile and the directory enables you to find and connect with people based on the information they supply about themselves in that profile. This has extended beyond individuals to "entities". So that a company or group can also create a profile. Which brings me to one of the most confusing things about these directories - that not all of them approach "entities" the same way and most of them don't make it very easy to figure out how to create a profile for your entity. Facebook invites you to create a Facebook "page" for your business but does not want you to create a "profile" for your business even though pages and profiles can use many of the same features and tools (but not all). On the other hand, LinkedIn has a very limited "page" for businesses providing very limited functionality. Small businesses often struggle to figure out which kind of existence they should have in these directories (should it be me? Should it be my company? Should it be someone else within my company?) both to stay within the terms of service and still maximize the tools marketing potential.
Social Bookmarking (also called Link Sharing) — these tools allow you to highlight and share individual Web pages you like by sharing a link to them. People can "vote" on each link that has been shared and the links with the most votes move to the top of the page making the site a portal to the "best" content as filtered by the community. Note that an individual profile is connected to the posting of each link so over time you can get to know your fellow bookmarkers by their sharing habits, genre, frequency etc. These sites are useful if you post a lot of content and would like that content to be found and read by more people.
Video Sharing — sites like YouTube are usually very straightforward in functionality. They make it very easy to upload your own video and once the video is uploaded, it is also easily viewed and commented on by others. YouTube also provides ways for the video to be shared and embedded in other sites increasing their ability to turn "viral". Because video can be far more useful for branding than for sales, and because small businesses often do not have access to the budgets or marketing expertise to leverage the benefits of viral video, this tends to be a useful tool only when the business has ready and very easy access to a good quality video writing, production and editing resource that is willing to work for free or at low cost (i.e. close friend, owner, family member).
Photo Sharing — these sites are usually quite simple in functionality. Members can post photos which then can be viewed and commented on by the general public or only by those who are invited to see them. Small businesses sometimes use these sites to share photo galleries instead of building photo gallery capability into their own Web site. I think this usually poses a branding and user experience conflict. Especially since photo galleries are usually pretty inexpensive ($300 or less) to integrate into one's own site.
Blogging — the content is your creativity, your voice. You post content on a regular basis whether it's text, video, photos, podcasts or all of the above. Blogs enable you to be an individual publisher, and usually enable readers to participate in the conversation by posting comments.
Out of all of these tools, the top 3 in my list perhaps will not be a surprise:
Next time I'll go into more detail about each and why I prefer these tools for small businesses.
I also am fond of blogging (go figure!) but that deserves to be covered separately.