Dubai: Businesses trying to cherry-pick their way through the many social networking sites for their branding campaigns will not find it necessarily easy.
However, it would be better to stick with the social networking sites that have already made it big, as a rule of thumb.
The four obvious ones are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Each differs greatly in their structure and purposes, but businesses have a lot of leeway in harnessing their potential.
According to a survey by YouGovSiraj, 41 per cent of those polled said they interact with their favourite brands through platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn.
"Social networking sites work because people want to listen to conversations and contribute to them," said Rick Itzkowich, Internet marketing consultant and vice-president of marketing at VP Productive Learning and Leisure. However, to ensure that it works for them, companies need to define their primary goals they hope to attain from being on such a platform.
According to the 2010 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, social book-marking sites such as Digg and Reddit edged Twitter slightly to emerge tops. Facebook was third, and there was also a prominent placement for LinkedIn.
Businesses that have yet to be convinced should look to Barack Obama and how he ran his campaign. "Obama was a master at using social media for his campaign — it paved the way for winning the election," said Ernesto Verdugo, an internet marketing consultant.
Gulf News looks closely at what the big social networking sites have to offer by way of branding.
Companies can benefit from the mass some would say, captive audience Facebook attracts by creating a fan page or corporate profile. By encouraging friends to join, the network is able to expand exponentially through recommendations made by one's friends.
Through these and the fan page, the business is able to market itself to a specific audience while the wall allows for interaction and activity encouraging feedback.
"In Facebook whenever you fill out a profile, you state whether you're male or female, age, the likes and dislikes, political affiliations, etc," said Larry Loik, founder and president of The Real Estate Investor Network and an online marketing specialist.
Applications are another marketing tool. One of the most popular to date is Farmville, which has over 80 million users. Businesses can increase awareness of themselves by creating in-game items that help the user's farm. Users don't see this just as marketing, but as a helping hand in the game.
YouTube, the video-sharing website now owned by Google, is one of the most popular networking sites. Putting a video up on YouTube immediately adds to a company's presence, directly and subliminally.
"YouTube can be a very powerful thing, if you know how to use a video camera, you'll be able to have an instant TV studio on hand," Verdugo said. "You'll be able to make and distribute videos to millions of people."
It's about giving the potential customer free information, thus adding value to the product. A lot can be done through video.
"One way to grab your audience is by establishing a news channel that's dedicated to your business," Verdugo said.
"Say you're a plumber you can have a programme dedicated to plumbing and tips showing just enough information for free.
"If the audience wants more information they can click on a link where they can buy a product to get more information," Verdugo added. "The video has to be educational and engaging to a point where you want to have a further look. The more free value you can provide upfront, the more business you can get on the back."
While Twitter isn't as popular as YouTube or Facebook — though the Twitterati may beg to differ — it is a vehicle to promote, announce or get a feel of the market and consumer mood.
"One powerful example is when the movie Bruno came out," said Verdugo.
"The first movie, Borat, was an overwhelming success all over the world. On the day Bruno opened in theatres around the United States it was packed as people expected it to be a great success," he said.
"However, it wasn't well received and the audience came out tweeting the message. In one day that film was destroyed."
While other sites are great for building up a client base, Twitter is best used as a search engine or listening tool. "By finding out what people are talking about, you can see the market trends emerge," said Itzkowich.
On the downside, techies believe Twitter is becoming inundated with spam and static and is slowly losing its popularity. "I think Twitter is going to decline little by little," Verdugo said. "The reason is there's a lot of static and spam and people don't really understand the concept."
While not as widely used as Facebook, Linked-In works well for specific business-related purposes.
"The strategy is different for LinkedIn compared to Facebook LinkedIn is mostly for business-to-business contact," said Itzkowich. "From a business angle it's the No 1 business tool corporate-wise."
LinkedIn is not a sales channel but a relationship channel, according to Itzkowich. If used well, a business can position itself to be at the hub of a network and thus be the go-to platform for someone looking to establish a connection.
On LinkedIn, a search can be done to find everyone who works in a company and what the position in it. From there, information can be garnered on who in your network is connected to the person you need to speak to in that business. Taking it to the next step, one can facilitate a meeting through this.
But Itzkowich throws in a caveat: "LinkedIn is a very slow process. On social media sites you are can either hunt or farm, and LinkedIn has more of a farming mentality. If you're in a hurry, Linked In is not the way to go."
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Tags: Ernesto Verdugo, Inspirational Stuff, Internet Marketing, marketing, Technology, Web 2.0