The proliferation of high-speed broadband and digital technologies means any business start-up, whatever their industry, will gain value from having an online presence. Social media is providing new and exciting ways for companies to interact, communicate and learn from their customers. Obviously the nature of your business will dictate which social networks are the most appropriate to get involved with, for example if your organisation doesn't have any video content and won't in the foreseeable future then there is little point in creating a YouTube channel for your business. Identifying the most appropriate platforms for your business is the first important port of call.
The quintessential social network for professionals LinkedIn is more for individuals rather than a whole business but if your employees have profiles on here it makes your company feel human and approachable. Often customers and prospective clients will feel more comfortable when they know who they are communicating with so this can be a huge advantage and add a great level of authenticity to your brand's online presence.
Facebook is so huge with over 800 million active users it's like a mini-net unto itself. And because the majority its users are active, i.e. on their account daily, updating their statuses, uploading their photos and interacting with their friends, they're more likely to engage with business brand pages too, making Facebook a fantastic platform on which to handle customer services as well as promote new products and services. The introduction of the 'Like' system in 2010 made it easier than ever for users to connect with companies and organisations they were fans of and so Facebook has been the defacto online platform for every company.
This location based social network is an integral inclusion in any businesses online presence where locality is a key factor. Forward thinking bars, clubs and pubs are utilising Foursquare to reward regular customers. If you visit a certain establishment often and sign in on Foursquare registering where you are, after a while you offered badges such as Mayor. The establishment then offers Mayors discounts and other rewards for their frequent visits. Although this social network is limited to geographically focused businesses it is a highly useful tool with wide ranging capabilities.
Everyone from Stephen fry to my mum seems to be on Twitter these days, and there's little wonder. The super simple microblogging service is a great way to update your followers on the latest developments in your business. After Facebook it's the go-to network for customer relations and due to the fact that each message can only be 140 characters it keeps praise or grievances short and succinct which then makes dealing with them easier.
As with all these social media sites, YouTube is only worth signing up to if you're going to commit to it and post content on your channel regularly. It is also worth seriously deliberating whether the video content you've got is worth posting, is it going to be useful/interesting to your potential viewers. It's best not to create a company channel just because you've got the odd video edit lying around your PC's desktop. The quality of YouTube videos is rising all the time, and decent video content is easy to create which makes YouTube one of the social networks that require a lot of time and dedication so it's really important you analyse whether it's right for your organisation and are you going to make the most out of it.
Social media is exciting and affordable new technology for businesses and it's revolutionising the departments of customer relations, marketing and human resources. For any company no matter what their size, the key bit of advice to take away from this is, don't spread yourself too thinly. Research the different social networks, decide which are going to be the most appropriate and beneficial for your organisation and commit to just two or three of them to make sure you get the most out of their opportunities.
Zac Colbert has been working with social media for over five years, managing the online identities of small and large businesses across a range of industries from chat sites to health and fitness brands.