Businesses looking to promote themselves in the social media world are either eager to find new opportunities or have faced the reality that they’ll soon have no choice but to venture into this space. As with any endeavor, though, trying to do everything will ultimately yield nothing. You need to understand the alternatives available and select those that are most manageable given the resources you have and will deliver the biggest bang for your buck.
While most of these tools – such as Twitter, Facebook and Digg – have many similar features, there are subtle differences among them, which will factor into the execution of your social media plan. Sometimes, you don’t really know what you’re getting into until you’re knee-deep and watching the water rise. Just by having a sense of what’s out there, you can focus your efforts on the tools that are most likely to address your specific needs.
Facebook: This is a great venue for consumer marketing, but I’m not sold on it for the business-to-business space. People tend to use their Facebook pages for personal information. This is where you’ll find crazy drunken pictures or family videos and status updates that gripe about work. So, it might be a stretch for a user to link this to a professional community or fan page. Would you want your best client to know you’re looking for a new job?
The applications in Facebook also reinforce the personal vs. professional distinction. Whether you’re playing with a SuperPoke Pet, smiting enemies in Mafia Wars or finding out which author you most resemble, you’re engaging in something distinctly non-work. Making the leap from fun to gig can be a difficult one.
LinkedIn: If there were ever a social networking platform built for the business user, this is it. LinkedIn emphasizes the resume, professional interests, networking and general business activity. The personal tends to be downplayed, so even the risk that you’ll let something out that you wouldn’t want business associates to know is mitigated. Users go to Facebook to come out; they go to LinkedIn to work. Even with the LinkedIn applications that can no be developed, the business flavor is evident.
To make LinkedIn work for a marketing department, you’re looking at a pretty hefty effort. LinkedIn requires action and management. Generally, you want to build a community (i.e., a “group”) and be an active and productive participant in other communities in your field. This entails a commitment to generate content regularly and to facilitate the flow of content generated by your members. Group moderators are often very helpful, and you may want to engage people outside your company to take on these roles. All of this translates to time, which implies cost. But, the targeted marketing opportunities are substantial, and if you do it well, the payoff is worth it.
Twitter: For all the complaints about Twitter – from not knowing the point to the measly 140 characters that the microblogging platform allows – a hell of a lot of people are using it. At last count, the service boasted more than 45 million members, and it’s growing rapidly. The constraints, however, make this a difficult marketing tool. If you’re going to use Twitter, you need to be ready to use something else with it. Layer Twitter on top of a corporate blog, Facebook fan page or LinkedIn group.
Twitter, from a marketing perspective, is a traffic director. With your 140-character blast, you can communicate briefly, and this is made more powerful if you can send the reader to a place where there’s more information available. And, once the reader is on your blog or Facebook page, you can gain more analytics than what little Twitter offers. So, you get the person’s attention, and you gain more intelligence. Twitter on its own is a dud. Twitter in conjunction with another tool is powerful.
YouTube: YouTube often gets overlooked, especially in the B2B world. After all, isn’t it just a place where dopey people put shitty home movies? Well, there’s a lot more you can do with YouTube. The social networking capability exists, and you can find people with similar interests to subscribe to your videos. And, you can build a custom channel that reinforces your brand and shows the full collection of videos available. The user base is incredibly large, making it virtually guaranteed that you’ll find the right audience (as long as you get creative enough in your hunting).
The analytics in YouTube aren’t bad, but it still doesn’t compare to the insights you can gain from a website or blog. For best results, use YouTube as a way to tease people over to your own web environment (I’m a big fan of blogs for this), where you can deliver hard-hitting information and mine the analytics for excellent insights.
Another use for YouTube is as a hosting platform. Place the videos on YouTube that you’ll highlight on your blog. This will cut down on the bandwidth and storage you consume and give you plenty of reliability. It will also let your users know that you have a YouTube channel, which they may go check out, giving you ownership of the eyeballs for a bit longer. As that commitment to your content grows, you’ll have a greater relationship from which to draw when its time to make a sales call.
Digg: Digg is a pain in the ass. The site is asocial bookmarking service that can raise the profile of a particular web page, news story or blog post. The community is quite hostile to marketing efforts, and the slightest transgression can get your account terminated. So, I tend to view Digg as something you let happen rather than something you engineer. The click-throughs are great, but you won’t be able to exercise much control.
I figured the easy way to sidestep the Digg cops would be to use a personal account, and mix in some non-work Diggs to make me look legit. It didn’t work. If you’re a hardcore marketing guy, skip Digg.
Delicious: Delicious is like Digg, only with fewer users, fewer click-throughs … and much looser laws. I use Delicious as another way to create links back to blog posts, and it’s been pretty useful in this respect. But, it won’t generate much traffic, especially if you’re operating in a niche.
Feedburner: Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of this one. Feedburner provides an RSS feed for broadcasting content and a simple mechanism for delivering e-mail alerts to people ready to commit to your content. It’s free and easy to implement. And, it gives you e-mail addresses, which can be useful in future marketing efforts.
You can use Feedburner to feed your podcast content into iTunes … which takes us to the next tool:
Podcasts: This is where you look to the future. It’s cheap, easy and fast to develop short podcasts, especially if you’re regurgitating content already published. But, you won’t get much reach … yet. The podcast section of iTunes is growing rapidly, though, so now is the time to claim your piece of digital real estate. When the market catches up, you’ll already have a large library available, which will attract new and repeat listeners.