Know Facebook? Of course you do. So do more than a billion other people around the world. That is one in every seven people on the planet.
If Zuckerberg’s website were a country, it would have the world’s third-largest population after China and India. Some estimates say that it could be the largest by 2016. And it is far from the only social network out there.
If you feel Facebook is too trivial for your liking, chances are you are on its more professional cousin, LinkedIn, which has more than 200 million users. Or perhaps you are on Twitter (500 million users). Or Google+ (also 500 million).
The fact is that using social networks is almost essential for anyone online today.
And if your business has anything whatsoever to do with the internet, you will probably have wondered or fretted about how you can use these networks for commercial gain.
It is fairly easy nowadays to come across encouragement to ‘go social’ with your business. Plenty of experts will warn you of the dangers of missing out if you do not engage with your customers on social media platforms.
There is undoubtedly a lot of truth in these sentiments. Social media networks give you a powerful way of striking up one-to-one conversations with customers and users, allowing you to seek valuable feedback and shape opinions.
That is why a growing number of large organisations, from Dell to Gatorade, are building space-age social media control and command centres where banks of screens are used to monitor online sentiment across the major channels.
For those with more modest ambitions, however, a measure of caution is called for. Getting yourself into social media is easy. Getting your business into it is slightly more complex.
First of all, you need to have a good handle on what a ‘social’ version of your business looks like. Let’s face it, when you are being social you dress down, meet up with friends and share jokes. Your business doesn’t, though.
Unsurprisingly, a common failure of businesses online is that they stay too businesslike. By insisting on selling all the time, for example, or simply by being too boring.
At the same time, if you go too far the other way you could trivialise your brand.
On social networks, your brand’s credibility is critical: every action can be scrutinised and commented on, every claim can be checked and every comment can be countered.
Also, you need to be aware that social networks are not all the same. The people who use Twitter may not be like those who use Facebook, so you cannot afford to talk to them all in the same way.
Which leads to a further point: the essence of social media interactions is conversations, and to have conversations you need to have things to say; lots of things.
Indeed, to be successful in social media you need a large store of content that is original, credible and interesting. All this means that social media engagement is a task that needs to taken very seriously.
Doing it by halves, for instance by assigning the job to a junior person on a part-time basis, is unlikely to work.
Instead, it is better to get experts involved from the outset in order to assess what you are hoping to get out of social media, and what tactics could help you achieve those aims.
Companies such as virtualROI can help both with this and with your ongoing engagement efforts, minimising the risks of getting your business onto social media… and helping to maximise the chances of success.