Social Networks are internet platforms that enable individuals & companies with shared interests to connect and interact with each other.  But, as we all know, this simple concept has absolutely blown the top off internet communications & information sharing in recent years, and continues to evolve in new directions everyday.

From the perspective of Entrepreneurs & Small Businesses, the explosive growth experienced by Social Networks has created a remarkable marketing opportunity.  As the number of Social Network users has increased to include a significant percentage of the overall population, it also has grown to include a significant percentage of the potential customers for your products & services.  If you want to find potential customers, start cultivating the Social Networks because most of them will be there.

In the world of Social Media for Small Businesses, the Social Networks comprise your marketing distribution channels.  These platforms provide the conduits that you can use to get your marketing content and messages out to your target audience.

The primary Social Networks (based on membership numbers) are briefly described below.  This list does not include directory, bookmarking, and sharing platforms which may also be appropriate based on your specific requirements.

Facebook – By far the largest and most widely used Social Network, a Facebook Page for your company is an absolute must-have in your Social Media strategy.  Some key points about Facebook:

  • Everyone will be able to visit your Facebook Page, but only those who opt-in by clicking the “Like” button will become Fans.  Fans will automatically receive your future posts.  In other words, it’s really important to get visitors to click the “Like” button – usually just a “Please click” will do the trick.
  • Although the look, profile, & theme should be consistent with your Website/Blogsite, your Facebook Page will primarily be used for brief interactions with Fans, sharing videos/photos, and links to content (e.g., your Blog). Unless you decide to move everything to Facebook – not recommended – your internet home will continue to be  your Website/Blogsite, and Facebook’s role will be to drive visitors/fans there.
  • Your Facebook Page can and should be integrated with your Website/Blogsite and your other Social Networks.  This will greatly simplify the process of posting new content and will ensure standardization of your marketing messages across all your channels.

Twitter – Basically a system for posting short (140 character) messages, Twitter is used by businesses primarily to post links to other content. Although somewhat eccentric in its use of symbols and abbreviations, Twitter has emerged as a valuable component in comprehensive Social Media strategies for Small Business.  A couple key points:

  • Although Twitter is essentially one big wide-open public network, your specific sub-network consists of Following (tweets from people & companies you’ve chosen to follow) and Followers (people & companies who have chosen to receive your tweets).
  • Because it is wide-open, Twitter enables you to zero-in on sub-groups of users based on geography and key words, thus (roughly) enabling targeted messaging to a potentially more responsive audience for your products/services.

Google+ – During its four-to-five month “beta trial”, Google+ went from zero to over 40 million subscribers and some commentators expect it to eventually challenge both Facebook and Twitter.  While there were some stumbles at the beginning that forced Google+ to delay introduction of its Business Page,  once it rolled out it was everything you’d expect from a Google product…clean, crisp, and simple.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that Google has married Google+ Pages to Google Search in a number of important ways – for example, if a user types in your website address with a “+” in front, Google Search skips the normal results and takes you directly to your Google+ Page.   While still in its early stages, the link between Google Search and Google+ Business Pages is guaranteed to make a Google+ Page almost mandatory for all businesses because Google’s algorithms determine where you land on the search results page which, in turn, generates the lion’s share of traffic – i.e., potential customers -to everyone’s Websites/Blogsites or, now, Google+ Page.

LinkedIn – A networking site designed primarily for business executives, up to now LinkedIn has been overwhelmingly used to post resumes and identify potential employees.  It’s also important to note that LinkedIn has a different “feel” than the other Social Networking sites because, ultimately, it isn’t social, it’s pretty much all business.

Nonetheless, LinkedIn has over 100 million users, lots and lots of professional Groups, and the ability to establish a Business Page from which you can post content just like you do with Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.  Depending on who your potential customers are will determine whether LinkedIn is at the top of your list or not on your list at all…but make sure you consider it because LinkedIn can be a very productive marketing channel for certain types of Small Business.

YouTube and Flickr –  Photographs, animated videos, and video clips are important content in Social Media, and these two platforms serve as excellent distribution platforms.  After posting your content on YouTube or Flickr, simply include a link in your other (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) posts.  As an added benefit, keep your content accessible to the public on these sites and you may gain exposure to potential customers you never knew existed…which is Social Media marketing at its best!

As you’ve undoubtedly concluded by now, putting together and maintaining an effective Social Network structure will require a commitment of time and energy on your part.  While the payoff can potentially be huge, the process can become a distraction from your primary business.  If you simply can’t invest the time, seek out some professional support that can ensure that the job not only gets done, but gets done right.