By now you’ve undoubtedly heard that social networking is a useful, low-cost tool for building buzz about your new business. But with so many social media sites now available, how do you choose the ones that are best for you? Here’s the answer: read this quick overview of each of the major social media sites and pick only the ones that match the level of effort you can commit to, the likely demographics of your audience, and the type of product/service you sell.
Connecting more than 1 billion people worldwide, Facebook is the largest and perhaps best known of the social media sites and is widely used by both individuals and corporations. Everything on Facebook starts with your page. Create a page with the name of your startup; then post regular updates and news about your company and industry to attract and engage with potential customers and their friends. To boost your visibility, you can promote your posts with paid ads. The advantage of being on Facebook is the size of the potential audience; the disadvantage is that with so many other organizations vying for attention, it can be hard to get noticed. As with all social media, you need to make regular posts (most experts recommend at least three a week) and you need to include a call-to-action (such as a link to your website) prominently on your page, since “likes” alone won’t build a business.
Flickr is an image and video sharing site owned by Yahoo! You can create a homepage for your startup, which will serve as a gateway to what you upload, as well as all the photos Flickr has to offer (and that archive is considerable, especially with the recent announcement that you can store more than 500K photos for free). There is also an Activity Feed that combines your followers’ recent uploads with activity on your own photos, so that you can share and interact on one page. While many people use Flickr primarily to host the photos/videos that they post to their blog and social networking sites, Flickr may be useful for social networking if your business is especially photo-centric.
Foursquare is a location-based social networking website for mobile devices, such as smartphones. It has millions of business listings, all submitted by Foursquare users who go to those places. If you run a restaurant or retail operation your business may already be on Foursquare, so I recommend you sign up to claim your listing and make sure it’s accurate and complete. (And if it’s not listed, you’ll want to make sure it’s added so that you’ll generate extra traffic from people already in your area.) Once you have a listing you can use Foursquare’s tools to alert visitors of your company’s news, events, and promotions. You can also use their analytics which will tell you about the customers checking in to your business – see who they are, when they come, and how much they’re talking about you across other social networks.
A relative newcomer to the social media scene, Google+ has yet to really become a hugely significant social media force, despite having more than 500 million users to date. In some respects, building a Google+ presence is similar to establishing your company on Facebook: you build a page, post relevant content, and hope that potential customers will “follow” you. The “hangout” – a feature that allows video calls to be aired live and to be recorded for playback later – is a good way to go face-to-face with customers. And Google’s experience with big data has enabled them to establish a valuable mechanism for listening to fans, identifying influencers, and running reports that show how your Google+ efforts are contributing to your bottom line. But perhaps the best reason to use Google+ is that it will increase your visibility on Google’s search results page. As Google itself explains, “When your customers search on Google, the results to the right may include relevant posts, photos, and videos from your Google+ page. Get found across Google, right when your customers are most interested.”
Instagram, now owned by Facebook, allows you to take a photo or short video with your mobile phone, transform its look and feel with digital filters, and then post it to the Instagram website and/or share with Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Tumblr and Twitter. You can also create an Instagram profile page which allows you to feature a selection of recently shared photographs and basic information about your company. It is most useful if your company is very visually oriented with products/services that lend themselves well to being photographed or shot on video. A fashion designer, for example, would likely do well on Instagram.
LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network with over 225 million members. If you are selling to other businesses, your company should be listed on LinkedIn. Once you’ve created your startup’s LinkedIn profile, make sure you keep it updated with company news, descriptions of your products and services, business opportunities, and job openings. Encourage your satisfied customers to make recommendations on your LinkedIn profile – these are especially useful because unlike, say, Yelp reviews, they are tied to the reviewer’s profile and thus provide an authentic endorsement that makes prospective customers feel confident about doing business with you. LinkedIn also gives you analytics that show who’s visiting your page, who is attracted to your company, and what visitors and followers are interested in learning about you. Use these insights to hone your messages, drive more traffic to your page, and create new leads and customers.
Pheed is a social networking platform that enables users to create and share all forms of digital content: text, photos, videos, audio tracks, voice-notes and live broadcasts. It is like Instagram in many ways, but handles more types of media. Note that users searching for content, can limit their search to specific subject matter since Pheed content uses hashtags, as well as to specific content types (e.g. only photos). Pheed is especially useful to those in creative fields, since not only can you easily copyright your material with Pheed’s copyright button, but you have the option of monetizing your content, either by applying a monthly subscription fee to your channel, or by setting up a pay-per-view Live broadcast. In both cases, you can establish your own pricing levels and are paid directly.
Pinterest is a social bookmarking site where users collect and share photos of their favorite things. One of the fastest growing social networks online, Pinterest is the third-largest social media site, behind Facebook and Twitter. If you have an image-heavy web presence (e.g. if you have photos of items you sell on Etsy), you should install “pin it” buttons to help “pinners” share the products of yours that they find and love. But anyone can curate Pinterest boards that help promote their business. Note though, that when you create Pinterest “boards” you should do more than just pinning pictures of your products/services. Instead, show what inspires your company, including the ideas, places, people and moods behind your business.
Tumblr is a microblogging platform and social networking website, hosting over 124 million blogs with more than 55.5 billion posts to date. You can post text, photos, links, music, and videos from your browser, phone, desktop, or email using the Tumblr dashboard. The dashboard also allows you to comment, reblog, and like posts from other blogs that interest you. You can connect your Tumblr blog to your Twitter and Facebook accounts, so whenever you make a post, it will also be sent as a tweet and a status update. If you are looking for a fairly basic all-in-one service for social media, Tumblr is a good place to get started.
Twitter claims 200 million active users who collectively send 400 million tweets a day, making it the second largest social media site. With such a wide audience, it can be a great place to generate some excitement about all the good things your new business offers. But make sure you are willing to commit to posting a 140 character update about once a day (the minimum most experts recommend) and to spending time interacting with your followers as Twitter etiquette requires. Try to vary your tweets so that it isn’t all about you all the time: you’ll gain more followers (and therefore eventually more customers) if your tweets are newsworthy, interesting or humorous.
YouTube is a website for sharing videos. Every new business can create a video that showcases its products or services, or even just features the founders explaining the genesis behind their startup. If you have a series of videos, you can give them greater visibility by creating a channel such as Wicked Start’s, SCORE’s or Stanford’s. Your video may never go viral like the latest cat video, but it can give potential partners, investors and customers a sense of your passion for your new venture.