Every day, business owners and advertisers hear about how they must keep up with the latest social media networks in order to have conversations with customers. There are now hundreds of options to consider, but with limited time, where is your time best spent? Whether building your company’s brand or your personal brand, the best place to start is with free online social media tools.
Getting online doesn’t have to take a lot of time and effort, as long as you narrow down your options to the sites that give you the best results for your time. I’d like to offer a brief introduction to six great free tools for engaging with your customers online. If you get yourself set up on these six social media sites, and devote an hour or so per week, you’ll have a great start on your social media marketing strategy.
1. LinkedIn is a business network with more than 41 million members in 200+ countries around the world. LinkedIn has four basic functions that you should use: Profile Pages, Company Pages, Answers, and Groups.
A Profile Page is your online business resumé, complete with your employment history, education, links to your website and blog, and more.
Your Company Page contains basic information about your company, plus a list of all your co-workers who have LinkedIn profiles.
LinkedIn Answers are questions posted by LinkedIn members on any subject. You can read or post answers to questions, or ask your own.
LinkedIn Groups are created by members and enable people with common interests to share their knowledge and questions through online discussions.
For detailed information about these four kinds of LinkedIn pages, see “Connecting with customers through LinkedIn.” For step-by-step instructions on setting up your account, see “Getting Started with LinkedIn.”
2. Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life, including friends, customers, and peers. Facebook started as a personal online tool but has evolved and is now used by individuals as well as businesses. Facebook has three kinds pages that you should use: Profiles, Groups, and Fan Pages.
A Profile Page contains information all about you, your work history, your education, your interests, and as much personal information as you’d like to include. You can add photos and videos to your profile, plus there is an ever-growing collection of applications you can add to your page to share even more about yourself. If you’re going to use Facebook for business, it’s best to keep the information on this page very professional. Information that you share on your Facebook “wall” is visible to the public and your Facebook “friends” and appears on their walls.
Facebook users can also create Facebook Groups to give others a place to start discussions, share information and events, and get answers to their questions.
Facebook Fan Pages are created by businesses, celebrities, or for products. You can post information about sales, new products or services, coupons, and more. And, your “fans” can comment back. All three types of Facebook pages are a great way to keep in close contact with your customers.
For detailed information about these three kinds of Facebook pages, see “Connecting with customers through Facebook.” For step-by-step instructions on setting up your account, see “Getting Started with Facebook.”
3. Twitter is an online service for posting quick answers to the simple question: What are you doing? Twitter is referred to as a “microblog” as it’s a blog with very short, 140-character postings. Twitter is a great way for businesses to share links, news, and events with customers and peers. You can subscribe to the Twitter postings of others by “following” them, and others can “follow” your postings, or tweets. When you go to twitter, you see a page filled with the tweets of all the people you follow.
Setting up your Twitter Profile is quick and easy. Your Profile contains simple information about you: your name, your location, a link to your website, a brief bio, information about the people you’re following on Twitter, and who’s following you. And, once you start tweeting, your profile contains all the tweets you’ve posted so far.
Use Twitter to announce new products and services, sales, share interesting articles you’re reading, link to interesting posts on your blog, and join in conversations with others on Twitter. Customers can share feedback on your products and services, ask questions, and share their own tips. It’s easy, since all you have to work with is 140 characters.
For detailed information about using Twitter for your business, see “Connecting with customers through Twitter.” For step-by-step instructions on setting up your account, see “Getting Started with Twitter.”
4. A Blog is a website, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, graphics, and/or video. Like Twitter, blogs are a great place to share information about you and your company, but in a longer format. You can post long or short posts, sharing company news, information about your industry or your clients’ industries, share your expertise, or write an article that might interest your customers.
One of the great things about blogs is that users can interact with you by posting comments in response to your blog articles. You can comment back, or contact them directly and engage them in conversations. And, people can subscribe to your blog and receive your articles via e-mail or through a blog reader.
Blogs also provide a way for you to create valuable content that is easily found by search engines. Your blog is indexed by Google and other search engines, and if you’ve written your copy with words that your customers might be looking for, you’ll appear in search results pages near the top. It’s a great way for customers to find you.
5. Google Local Business Center is a way for you to help customers find you on Google. Through Google LBC you can create a business listing to be sure that local customers find you. If you have a business that serves local customers, you should create a listing using Google LBC.
Your Google listing is map-based, so when someone searches for your products and services and includes a location in the search (e.g., restaurants in Santa Cruz) Google will provide a listing of companies that provide that service with markers on a map.
You can provide basic company information, as well as coupons, photos, videos, and more. And, your customers can interact with your listing, providing reviews and comments. If you have reviews, your listing appears in search results with a rating and comments. It’s a great way for you to hear what your customers are thinking. If you have a customer that just had a great experience with your company, be sure to send them a link to your listing and ask them to give you a review.
6. Yelp is an easy way to find, review, and talk about what’s great — and not so great — in your area. You can create a listing on Yelp that includes information about your company, and add in coupons, videos, photos, and more. Your customers can give you reviews, rating you on a set of criteria you select. People looking for reviews can sort by rating or number of reviews and get results with reviews, marked on a map.
Make sure you ask happy customers to give you a review on Yelp after their service. And, read all reviews to see if there’s something you could be doing better for your customers.
Ready to get started?
It’s easy to get started with social media in just about a day:
• Sign up for LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, a blog provider, Google Local Business Center, and Yelp
• Fill out the basic information (you can add more later)
• Join groups of peers and/or customers
• Listen and get a feel for discussion etiquette
• Get social by joining into conversations with your peers and customers.
And, with an hour or so per week, you can keep up with your customers and peers online.
I did a recent presentation called “Free Online Tools to Create Conversations” that is now available as an online slideshow on SlideShare. The presentation introduces the six online tools outlined above, and includes screenshots of each type of page.
If you’re interested in more advanced use of social media marketing, take a look at “5 Steps in a Social Media Marketing Plan.”