Social Networking and Web 2.0

By: Thomas Young, MBA

A Transformation of the Internet

Unless you have stuck your head in a hole, you are sure to have noticed the growth of online social networking; a part of what is known as Web 2.0.  This is a very important trend that defines the future of the Web and is best described as movement from one way communication technologies to two-way communication and the building of online communities. Thus an upgraded version of the Web, or Web 2.0.

Unfortunately, most companies are not taking advantage of the numerous marketing opportunities presented by Web 2.0.  You need to know about the evolving nature of the Internet, how to get in early and how to market your Website and company with the right Web 2.0 strategy.

What is Social Networking and Web 2.0?

This trend is best understood by visiting a few important Websites.  MySpace, FaceBook and YouTube have become three of the top five Web proprieties, behind Google at number one and Yahoo at number two, in the Alexa.com ratings. The sites have so many users they can be considered search engines in their own right. These Websites draw hundreds of millions of users and the chances are very good your prospective customers are using these sites.

MySpace

MySpace is a social networking Website that allows users to build their own personal Website, with a unique MySpace domain, and post comments on other’s Websites.

Pro: It is used by millions of people, many artists, actors, musicians and younger demographics. Includes music, videos, photos and content. Advertising on MySpace is still in Beta and there are opportunities to get in early.

Con: Although it has millions of users, it is fairly targeted. Think artists, musicians, tattoos, match-making and lots of sites with black backgrounds and spinning graphics.

YouTube

This is the world’s largest online video Website owned by Google and with mind boggling visits and users.

Pro: It is free to post your searchable videos for millions of people.

Con: Videos must be under 10 minutes and there is not much control over how your pages actually look on the site.  Users can comment on your videos so be ready for anything.  Does not have a prominent advertising model yet.

FaceBook

FaceBook is second only to MySpace as the Web’s largest social networking site with over 150 million users. Users post photos, comments, create dialog and groups and keep diaries of what is happening in their lives.

Pro: Staggering amount of traffic and very easy to use and connect with others for free. This is a more professional alternative to MySpace and is growing fast.

Con: Be very careful about your approach marketing on this site as the ad model has not been totally worked out.

iTunes

iTunes is not usually considered a Website because you have to download iTunes software to visit the iTunes store. However, it is one of the most popular destinations on the Web with hundreds of millions of users.  Anyone that buys an iPhone or iPod has to link to iTunes..

Pro:  You can set-up your podcast for free on iTunes.

Con: Mostly focused on music, TV shows and movies.

LinkedIn

This Website is the world’s largest business networking site. Imagine a meet and greet business event with several million people all talking about business issues.

Pro: The biggest and best site for business networking. There is no fee for a basic membership.

Con: They charge a minimal fee to be a full member and you may have sales people solicit you for business and others looking for work.

Second tier Web 2.0 sites that are also very popular with millions of users.
Go visit these sites to learn more about the depth and reach of social marketing and Web 2.0.

  • Second Life
  • Twitter
  • Plaxo
  • Digg

Develop a Social Networking and Web 2.0 Strategy

Developing the right social networking and Web 2.0 strategy begins with the following questions:

  • Are customers and prospects using these Websites?
  • Are they searching for content we can provide?
  • How do they use these Websites?
  • How can we add value to them?

There are four major strategies to consider:

1. Building word-of-mouth through content, audio and videos.

YouTube draws millions of users looking for videos on a broad range of topics.  Your videos should be part of YouTube.  It is free to set-up an account and post videos.  These videos can be found through key word searches in YouTube and Google, who owns YouTube. Make sure you code each video with targeted search terms.

Any social networking Website can be used for word of mouth marketing with written content, videos, podcast or links to Web pages.  The key is to know what content is valuable and likely to be distributed around the Web.  All of the social networking sites are set-up to very easily share content among the various user networks.  You can use these sites to announce new products, update service information, offer tips and suggestions, drive users to pages on your site and more.

There is no quick fix and your content must be strong and enticing. Join in the discussions with insightful content that adds value to the readers and your word of mouth will grow.  You can comment on postings, discuss videos, help answer questions on LinkedIn or interact in a variety of ways with the major social networking sites.

2. Direct ads on 2.0 Websites.

Ads are an option on sites like FaceBook, but have low click-through rates.  If you do use an ad, then the biggest challenge is to build a strong enough enticement to grab a click and a great landing page that can convert.  The upside is you can target the ads in very focused online marketplaces. Test different ads and watch the click through rates closely.

Social networking ads are different then other Web ads because they are much more targeted.  The ads can geographically target users’ accounts and their friends.  This allows you to target very specific communities, demographics and the lifestyle or business issues associated with that demographic.  Wedding planners, kids toys, expecting mothers, dating Websites, health care, job finders, small businesses, entrepreneurs, college grads and more can be targeted. Because this is a fairly new form of advertising and there are many opportunities to get in early at very affordable rates.  You can also select whether you want to pay per click or per exposure.

Although users are not thrilled to see these ads, they do realize that these social networking Websites have to pay their bills.

3. Branding your business to target markets.

There are enough visitors to these sites that it pays to be visible.  Ads and content will get your business name posted on online communities where you can find your target market. You must also have a great company Website.

Social networking sites are redefining traditional branding.  Most companies are not creating large national brands like Pepsi or Coke, but rather developing a brand in a focused market segment.  The Web is a great tool for building these targeted brands and many targeted customers will be found on social networking sites.  Word of mouth and branding merge here as the content you post becomes your branding material to a variety of users who may never see your logo or even know your company name until they find you on a social networking site and visit your Website.  For this reason, make sure your Website is first rate or your online brand will suffer as users are let down upon visiting your Website.  You will also hurt the brand by too much self-promotion in your content.  Avoid this by keeping your content value-added and building your brand through direct communications with your target audience.

4. Building communities for your target market.

Not only can you market to very targeted communities, you can also create communities.  LinkedIn has thousands of targeted groups with more coming online every day. Use these communities to build dialog and get market feedback. This can be very powerful for large and small communities alike. You are likely to find postings in that community asking for advice or help.

The first step is joining the social network.  Begin by developing an account page that works for you.  It may be an account page for staff at your company or the business itself.  This depends on your business and targeted market. If you are looking for feedback, then post questions and offer links for more information. If you are looking to develop sales leads, then follow discussion threads and answer questions.  You might also create discussion threads by developing a blog or podcasts. Regardless of the approach you select, come ready with content to share with users.

The strategy you select depends on your products or services, size of your company and overall approach to Web marketing.  The key is to add value.

Content Adds Value

The value you add is in the form of content that helps users do their job better or improves the quality of their lives.  This content will either brand your company, drive traffic to your Website, result in a direct sale or create a sales lead.  Think of it as content distribution about your company.  Use the Web’s convenience to draw people out and respond to your content. The content that works for your company offline will work even better in the Web 2.0 environment.

How to Market on Social Networking Websites

Throw out the traditional forms of marketing and think of the skills of a master sales person.  You are building relationships on the Web; just like a great sales person. However, the reach goes well beyond one person.  Many people read and interact with your content.  They can also tell others about you very easily.  You will also get feedback from the marketplace and the conversation.

Blogs, Podcasts, Email, Webinars and Your Website

At the heart of social marketing and Web 2.0 are blogs, podcasts, email and your company Website. Links abound on social networking sites and users bounce around between Websites, blogs and podcasts.  They subscribe to podcasts, listen to Webinars and gravitate towards meaningful content.  Use these tools to post your content and stay in touch with users.  Make sure your company site is top-notch, because users will eventualy visit your site.

If you are wondering if your Website is acceptable, get unbiased feedback from users in a neutral setting through user testing or other forms of feedback.  Also, visit these Websites to learn more about what makes a top-notch Website:

Intuitive Websites Blog
www.useit.com

Also, read the book, “Don’t Make me Think” by Steve Krug.  Find more information at  www.sensible.com.

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