There’s a lot of buzz in the online PR world about social networking, whether that be traditional social networks like Myspace and Facebook or social networking through microblogging services such as Twitter.
Should you jump into social networking to promote your business? And if so, with so many options available, how do you choose which social networks to participate in?
Benefits of Social Networking
I’m not much of a supporter of diving into every new or large social networking environment or fad to promote a business. However, social networks do have some benefits that make them worth considering as an addition to your online PR efforts:
1. Social networks and microblogging services can serve multiple roles with a single tool. For example, you can network with colleagues, while also promoting offers or information to clients and potential clients of your company.
2. Social networking is cost-effective. Most networks are free to join.
3. Social networks and microblogging services can help you get news or a message out very quickly to a targeted audience.
Problems with Social Networking
Despite its benefits, there are also some drawbacks to social networking for promoting a business.
1. Social networking can be a productivity killer. Many businesses simply try to do too much – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace, etc. The multiple updates aren’t always reaching different audiences, and it’s a waste of time that could be spent elsewhere if you’re simply targeting the same groups with the same messages, but in different locations.
2. It’s easy to get too personal, or too off-topic, when social networking, Twittering, etc. You may divulge more information than you wanted to (or than you should), and once you’ve said it, you can’t take it back. The instant gratification factor also makes it easier to communicate without thinking things through; contributing to negative “Web wars” at times.
3. The bulk of the population still hasn’t embraced these technologies, meaning your target audiences may not yet be well-represented there.
Choosing Social Networking Services for Your Needs
There are good things about social networking for PR. There are negative things as well. So how can you strike a happy balance? How do you choose the best social media communication tools for your business, without over-extending your resources to reach only a small portion of your audience?
1. Target, target, target! It doesn’t matter what the largest social network is if your specific audience isn’t represented there. Niche social networking tools may be a far better option than simply going with networks that always seem to be getting the buzz. For example, no network yet beats Myspace for promoting to musicians. If you’re trying to reach an adult audience as opposed to teens, you may be better off using a service like Gather.com. If you want to network with other professionals in your industry, LinkedIn might serve your needs more effectively. There are also smaller social networks targeted to very specific niches (webmasters, photographers, etc.). There’s no reason to try to “do it all.”
2. Understand the numbers. Don’t join a social network simply because they say they have X number of members. Those numbers mean absolutely nothing. What you should care about is not the total membership, but instead the “active” membership (and those specifically within your target audience – it goes back to targeting).
3. Get to know a network’s policies on promotion, as it applies to your plans. The last thing you want is to be labeled a spammer. Understand that these tools are more about networking, building relationships, and communicating than blatant promotion, as in marketing and sales.
No matter how deep you decide to delve into social networking and / or microblogging, always make sure you’re making the best use of your time, and reaching your intended targets.