Social Networking Tips for Businesses

Steven Streight
SpyderHost.net

What Social Network Members Want

Social networks, also known as social media, are websites that people can join as members of an online community. These social networks (“socnets”) provide tools that enable members to configure a customized version of a user page; create profiles and bios; manage invites and contact lists; upload photos, video and music files; and interact with each other via multiple channels. Interaction tools include built-in chat rooms, bulletins, public notes, private messages and comments (“in reply to”) on messages.

People join social networks to socialize, share and self-promote. They are not receptive to marketing messages or sales hype, but they do seek answers and advice. If you have experience and expertise of relevance, they may value your altruistic contributions to the social network.

Socnet users want to meet other people, make friends, find love, display art, showcase expertise, promote blog posts, distribute music mp3s, express feelings, state opinions, ask questions, update their status, argue about trivia and obtain peer-to-peer advice.

They want friends. They could use a selfless mentor, an expert who first seeks to help, and only secondarily—almost reluctantly—engages in sales behaviors. In the digital realm, marketing has to be 80 percent education and only 20 percent sales communication, especially in emerging technology markets. The more your customers understand how your product solves a problem better than your competitors’ products, the more likely they are to spread positive word-of-mouth advertising for you.

How To Approach Social Networks

You can’t fake it. Social network members can sense a company or individual who is pretending to be unbiased, but is really oriented only to quick, easy sales. Manipulation is easily detected. The worst thing you can do is constantly promote some product or site or try to trick people into visiting your site. Ghost blogs, fake social media and pseudo profiles are scams that are pre-judged. It’s common knowledge in the blogosphere that such antics are taboo. Exaggerated hype exploitation is what most companies seem tempted to do, but it always backfires and generates negative PR.

On the web, trust is given to peers with no ulterior motives. Social network members seek uncoached, “un-incentivized,” spontaneous, genuine reports of product use. Satisfied or unsatisfied, they want to hear uncompensated opinions from real users. They also want to hear from CEOs, business owners and entrepreneurs who have special knowledge or professional insight about a topic of relevance.

People join social media sites to socialize, not to buy things. They want to connect with peers, share their thoughts and feelings, ask for technical help and generally have fun while learning from the experiences of others. They do not join to be inundated with marketing messages, advertising or commercial spam.

Socializing by definition excludes sales hype. If pushy, money-hungry salesmen showed up at a private party, they’d be kicked out, right? Aggressive, obnoxious sales pitches would spoil the fun.

It’s counter-productive to invade these sites just to push products at the communities. When companies try to do so, it backfires, generates negative buzz and ends up doing more harm than good. Can you afford to alienate bloggers or social networkers? In social media, a company representative will be warmly welcomed—if that rep provides valuable, relevant information that the community needs and is very low-key about marketing anything.

Social media—and the web itself—is based on trust. Trust is gained by helping, advising and educating your audience. Promotional messages and ads are ignored and/or despised. But good advice, free samples and instructional materials are actively sought, enjoyed and respected.

You should see these social media sites as groups of potential friends who have needs you can meet, not as prospective consumers who you can take advantage of or revenue streams that you can exploit. If you have a grossly commercial, non-helpful approach, you will be hated—and the negative publicity could possibly ruin your business.

Seth Godin (sethgodin.typepad.com) and Laura Ries (ries.typepad.com) are good role models. They give tons of advice, insight and relevant links. They want you to buy their books, seminars and consulting services, but they almost never mention this, outside of several small, non-intrusive ads in their sidebars. This is the royal road to trust, goodwill and respect—especially when it comes to social networking sites and communities. Think about what expertise you have that could be shared. Study these sites. Join a few of them. Watch what needs are expressed, what questions are being asked. Then jump in and solve some of their problems.

If you gain their trust and respect, you’ll probably gain some new paying customers, too! But be patient. Social media is not a “get-rich-quick” scheme zone—it’s more a “get-trust-slowly-but-surely” arena. If you hang in there and share some trivia now and then (what movies or music you like, for example), you’ll be seen as a good member of the community—a regular guy or gal—and a source for solutions.

It’s all about altruism and mutual benefit, not greed. The worst mistake you can make is to pretend to be a non-commercial member of the online community, then promote products like you’re an average user giving an uncoached, unbiased report. The trust path is the only avenue to sustainable profits and long-term customer loyalty. To succeed in influencing social networks, first be a good member of the community, sharing abundantly! Market to social media? Do it the right way, and you’ll do your business a great favor. IBI

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