A few years ago, if you dared to check your Facebook profile at work, you closed your office door, tilted your screen away from potential onlookers and kept your mouse hovered over the minimize button. There’s no way your boss would have allowed a site that was primarily for keeping track of friends and family. But, it’s certainly not the case anymore. Local businesses are using social networking sites to connect with customers and create effective brand awareness campaigns at little or no cost.
Jeff Muendel, an online marketing analyst for Netconcepts, LLC, recommends Facebook to any business new to social marketing because it’s free and easy to use. “Fan Pages” are one of the site’s unique features where businesses can create profiles for their products. When a user links to the product as a fan, the page is shown on the user’s profile page. As more people link to the page, the product begins to have a ubiquitous feel in certain social circles. “It’s like word-of-mouth advertising in the social media world. People see their friends have it and want to have it too,” says Muendel.
Facebook works well for small businesses in Madison. Web Diva Sydne Conant at A Room of One’s Own Feminist Bookstore uses Facebook’s events feature to send out announcements of in-store readings and sales to over 700 friends online. “The event is presented to the person invited, then posted on their page as a reminder every time they log on,” says Sydne.
Another option gaining traction is Twitter, a blogging platform that allows users to send “tweets,” short messages that are no longer than 140 characters. Because they are so short, users regularly sent out multiple tweets a day to their “followers.” Businesses can use this strategy to remain at the forefront of their customers’ minds – and it can even help win a presidential campaign; Barack Obama popularized Twitter by keeping his supporters up to date on his campaign through regular tweets.
“I think starting a social networking page is almost essential for small businesses these days,” says Conant. “It is easy, accessible and can reach a much wider audience, especially with people under 30, in a shorter amount of time than other forms of media.”