This is my response to a question from a reporter for a jewelry trade publication last December, who wanted “a professional that has done research on, or has knowledge of, how effective social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace) are for businesses.”
Social networking sites can be very effective as a direct marketing relationship building/maintenance tool for businesses. They are also a superb way of getting customer feedback. They shouldn’t be thought of in terms of traditional advertising. This is a long play; it may not pay immediate dividends but you’ll reap your rewards over the long haul in terms of customer relations.
Businesses can create pages on Facebook of which people can become “fans.” When they do, your businesses icon becomes a part of their profile page, thus exposing your brand to their network of friends.
Once someone becomes a fan of your page, you can communicate with them through updates, you can invite them to events, they can comment on your profile and you can even let them upload photos and/or video to your profile. Fans can hold discussions amongst themselves on your page. Page owners have ultimate control over what user generated content can appear on their profile.
Businesses should get to know the social network within which they are planning to set up shop before actually doing so. Open an account, explore, use the network as you imagine your customers would use it. Examine how people behave on the site. What type of conversations are they having? How do communications flow through the site.
Once you feel you have a grasp of how the network works, ask yourself if you have the ability and the commitment to update content on your page frequently, how you plan to communicate with your customers through it, and, most importantly, how you plan to market your presence there. Too often, people set up shop and then do nothing with their presence there. That is worse than not being there at all. If you’re not prepared to be an active participant on the site, don’t do it.
The major social networking sites, Facebook and MySpace, are the domain primarily of Millennials and Gen Xers; though Boomers are joining increasingly as a way to keep in touch with their college-aged kids. LinkedIn is a professional business network that is primarily used by Gen Xers and Boomers. Young adult Millennials are a growing demographic, though. There are many niche and topical social networking sites: Black Planet for African Americans and Shelfari for book lovers, for example.