The question, “Should you/your business use social media?” seems to be a common question in business circles at present. But to answer the question, you first need a definition of social media, and then need to understand the various flavours of social media. You then need to apply that knowledge to your own business circumstances.
What is social media?
Put simply, social media is content created by individuals expressing their own views and opinions. Traditional newspapers, radio and TV news are not social media; but content posted to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and blogs is.
Sending a media release to a traditional news organisation may or may not get your story published. But just as importantly, you are unable to control the message published by the media. Your facts may be presented very differently to how you intended. What is ultimately published carries the implicit endorsement of a third party, the journalist, and so is generally given more credibility.
Social media, on the other hand, allows you to control your message to your often limited audience of friends or followers. Typically posts on social media are not newsworthy in the journalistic sense (although there are exceptions), even though they may be very newsworthy and relevant to your friends or followers.
Types of social media
The easiest way to describe the various social media forums is to compare them with an offline equivalent.
Facebook is the backyard barbecue of the online world – mostly social with friends, but who is to say that you aren’t going to do business with the person you have just met over a beer and a sausage?
Twitter is about the BBQ — the here and now. “What are you doing?” “I’m at a BBQ and the BBQ just exploded.” Whoops! That should make for some interesting conversation. Self-indulgent yobs can be so self-absorbed in their own here and now, that they totally forget about you. “I’m scratching my navel now.” Who cares?!?
MySpace is the kids’ party on a Saturday night – very much oriented around teenagers interested in the latest music, and increasingly other multimedia such as video and games.
LinkedIn is the business lunch – you know everyone is there for business reasons, but even so you manage to catch up with other business acquaintances over a drink and some food. Business lunches can be very productive, but a bit of a bore if you are not in the business world.
Blogging is more like providing a detailed explanation about what you have done this week, rather than a 20 second grab of the highlights, around the BBQ. Hopefully you will be interesting enough in your narrative to keep people’s interest, rather than them wandering off for another drink and sausage. Blogging is a bit old school these days, but quite useful to put forward a more detailed explanation of your point of view. Not everyone has the writing and research skill to put together a thoughtful and interesting blog post.
My experience with social media
I have been online since 1994 – that was back when a 28 kbps dial-up modem was fast!
My own experience is that I have a Twitter account, but I do not Twitter. I do not have a MySpace account. I do not anticipate being active on Twitter or MySpace in the future.
Sometime back I changed my anonymous Facebook account (I know, it is against the Facebook rules!) to my real identity, but see this as really only social, not business. I try not to share too much personal information on Facebook because I am an old school web user. The limited information that I have put on Facebook is available by Googling me anyway. I do not intend putting my business on Facebook or Twitter because most of my business leads are generated from personal contacts.
I have a recently developed a personal business presence on LinkedIn, and am interested to track its progress. I keep in contact with a few business acquaintances this way.
I have a blog-style company news section on my business web site, and occasionally post opinion pieces there too.
I also have a personal blog, but it is anonymous as an individual and not linked to my business. The blog is where I put all my personal ramblings on various topics and generates more than 1,500 unique visits each month.
Should your business have a social media presence?
If you are a business participating in social media, you should think of yourself as organising the BBQ – a bit like the Bunnings BBQ on a Saturday morning. You know people will stop by for a sausage, but then they buy a whole lot more.
If your business is based around attracting and engaging with groups of people, such as a professional association or sporting club, then a presence on Facebook may be useful.
If your business interacts with teenagers, then a MySpace presence may be useful – but make sure you are genuine! Don’t get a middle-aged PR person (like me!) trying to speak the teenagers’ lingo. You had better employ a couple of teenagers to get yourself a real presence there. A backyard BBQ is pretty dull for this group, so you had better think of something else that will capture their imagination!
If your business model is business to business, then LinkedIn may be a useful way to generate business leads, and be seen by other business people.
But Tweeting? If you have highly-engaging, must-have content that is relevant right now, then Twitter may be appropriate.
And blogging? It can be very useful to express your business opinion on topics to a wider audience.
Now go put another sausage on the BBQ would you? I’m hungry!