This article appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Writers’ Journal.
Social networking. A lovely buzz-term that goes right along with Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook. But what does all the buzz mean and, more importantly, what does it mean for you?
The short answer:
buzz = viral marketing = free advertising
posts = content + links = better search engine rankings
With two of the web’s top search engines, Bing and Google, including Twitter and Facebook posts in their searches, getting into Twitter and Facebook will greatly increase your chances of drawing visitors to your site.
The rest will take a little more time to explain and I’m going to start with what exactly social networking is.
What is Social Networking?
Social networking sites are places where individuals and corporations sign up, create an “about me” page (called: profile), hunt for people they know or people who have common interests, friend them, and then post tidbits of information about themselves and their doings. Easy, right?
Not all of them do the same thing, and different social networking sites draw different sorts of people so do your research before you dive in. A great overview of the 2010 traffic demographics for a bunch of sites can be found here: http://www.ignitesocialmedia.com/2010-social-network-analysis-report/. Here’s a quick run-down of the leaders:
Twitter describes itself as, “a real-time short messaging service that works over multiple networks and devices…from breaking world news to updates from friends.” Practically speaking, it allows you to shout whatever you want to the world in “tweets” of 140 characters or less. You can then read what other people are shouting by either searching on key terms, or by following specific people.
Strengths: A real-time glimpse of what’s going on in the world on whatever topic you’re interested in, and networking with random people with interests similar to yours. Lots of fast, easy links that will get passed around (re-tweeted).
Weaknesses: Saying something substantive in 140 characters is a challenge. You can also get drowned out by people who tweet more frequently than you do. Comments on things other people have said often come across disjointed.
Who’s There: People ages 25-54.
“Giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” There’s more to Facebook than Twitter, including silly games and surveys that will suck you in and keep you there. It has a more robust profile capability than Twitter and you can write longer updates about yourself and upload pictures. It also has an instant messaging feature for real-time dialog with your friends.
Strengths: A wide array of tools, including event notifications/invitations. Longer messages and the ability to have a string of comments on both your messages and those of your friends.
Weaknesses: Random people will not see your posts so in order to reach your audience, you have to already know who they are and “friend” them. It takes longer to network this way, but the connections tend to be stronger and more targeted.
Who’s There: The percentages between the age brackets are fairly even with a slight advantage to ages 45-54 and a severe shortage of people 65 or older.
“Find past and present colleagues and classmates quickly. Discover inside connections when you’re looking for a job or new business opportunity.” Like the others, LinkedIn has a profile feature and revolves around creating connections to specific people. It has an import feature that will attempt to make friends with everyone in your email address book.
You can post status updates like the others, but there are three features LinkedIn has that Twitter and Facebook don’t. A Q&A section where you can post questions and then answer other people’s questions, thus building your credibility and increasing your exposure. There is also a way to recommend people and post reviews on them. The last feature is a jobs posting section where you can post job opportunities or look for them.
Like Facebook, you can join groups, and post to them, thus establishing a dialog.
Strengths: A wide array of tools, including event notifications/invitations, discussion groups and job boards.
Weaknesses: Focused on business, LinkedIn is the least relaxed of places for social networking and is definitely a B2B arena, rather than a B2C. Newcomers can easily get drowned out by the establishment.
Who’s There: Business people primarily ages 35-54.
“MySpace is the place for friends.” One of the oldest social networking sites out there, it offers a robust service including a profile feature, built-in blog, games, and a friend features similar to Facebook. The focus of MySpace is image, audio and video sharing. To facilitate this, it also offers forums and instant messaging.
Strengths: Longevity, blogging, and a robust platform with easy file sharing.
Weaknesses: MySpace is aimed at a younger audience and can be a very confusing to an older audience with ads that are more obtrusive than those on Facebook. MySpace has been blocked on most school computers making it available only to those kids with a computer at home or with a lenient public library.
Who’s There: MySpace is definitely dominated by the under 17 crowd, with the next dominant age bracket at 35-54.
“LiveJournal represents social media without borders. Rooted in a tradition of global participation, LiveJournal is on the forefront of personal publishing, community involvement, and individual expression.”
LiveJournal is blogging with a friend feature. Like a hosted blog, your public entries are categorized and searchable on the LiveJournal site. Like Facebook, you can friend people and have their blog posts automatically show up on your Friends page and vice-versa.
Strengths: It has both blogging and friend features.
Weaknesses: The blog feature is not as robust as WordPress and while the friend feature is on par with the other social networking sites, there isn’t as much to do. It does not have a robust file-sharing feature.
Who’s There: The age of LiveJournal’s user base is fairly even, with only the over 65 age group underrepresented.
How Do You Use Social Networking?
The trick to social networking is to remember that it’s not a commercial and all of your marketing efforts must be passive. This means you need to loosen your tie, take off the heels, and unwind.
Personality is the key term here. A back-lash against big corporations and their marketing machines has brought about the social networking revolution. People here look for word-of-mouth recommendations. Good posts are passed around the web so if you give quality and character, you will be rewarded.
Before you do anything else, it is vitally important in any social networking effort that you have a blog. I highly recommend WordPress, especially its self-hosted version (wordpress.org). There are a bunch of lovely programmers out there who have created tools called “plug-ins” that you can install into your blog. These plug-ins will automatically post links to your social networking outlets whenever you post an article. This makes keeping up with all of the accounts much easier. They’ll also let you put a little banner at the bottom of each post that will let people send the link to their favorite social networking group of friends. A few of these are: Wordbook, Tweet This, Add to Facebook, LiveJournal Crossposter, and WP to Twitter.
You should also make a point of making it easy for people to friend you from your blog. Put a list of links to your social networking accounts on the sidebar so people can easily follow you. Take advantage of Google’s FeedBurner. Create a way for people to subscribe to your blog’s feed and use the distribution tools FeedBurner offers.
When you set up your Twitter account, take the extra effort to upload a picture of yourself…or your cat…and customize the look of your page. Personality, remember? The next thing you do is use the search feature to hunt down leaders in whatever field you want to target. If they have a lot of followers, study their tweets and look at who’s following them. Start tweeting and then follow the fellow who follows the tweet. Wait, let me rephrase that. Follow the people who are following the leaders in your field. Twitter only allows you to follow up to 2,000 people until you have 2,000 following you, so anyone who doesn’t follow you back, un-follow and add new ones until you’ve built up your following. TweetDeck.com is a great little program that will help you manage your tweets.
If you don’t have the ability to get shortlinks from your blog (wordpress does have this feature), get an account with bit.ly or TinyURL.com so you can post shortened versions of your links, thus saving room for typing words. Remember you only have 140 characters and every letter in your url counts. A way for your tweets to be picked up and distributed are through hashtags. A hashtag is a keyword or phrase prefixed by a hash (#) and looks like this: #socialnetworking. You can incorporate hashtags into your tweets and up their chances of getting randomly seen or distributed through RSS feeds.
You can also direct messages to specific Twitter accounts by using the @ sign in front of the user’s name. Here’s a sample tweet that puts all of these things together:
@arender Great #article to improve your #SEO using #socialnetworking. http://www.angelarender.com/?p=895
And I even have characters to spare!
Facebook is a much slower place to build a large following, but you can work your email lists and your friends into a decent group rather quickly. If you have a book in print, you can create a fan page for it and invite in followers that way. The feature Facebook has over Twitter is its photo gallery. Use it to have people vote on cover art, post images of your appearances and of events you attend.
If you can stand it, use LinkedIn’s Answers feature. Post questions and answer other people’s questions. You can build a following outside your current realm of associates in this manner. Make sure you fill out the profile completely and include a link to your website.
File sharing is MySpace’s greatest strength. To build a following among the younger audiences, you need to take advantage of my Podcasting instructions in a previous issue, or branch out into video production and editing. These productions should be posted to your blog and also shared around on iTunes, MySpace, and YouTube.
One Last Hint
Have fun with this. Of all the marketing things you could possibly have to do, socializing might be the most fun. Relax and remember that you’re a person connecting with people. Now get out there and make some friends!
Angela Render is an author who has been editing and developing websites for over a decade. She teaches regular classes on Internet marketing. Her Internet marketing workbook, Marketing for Writers: A Practical Workbook, is available on her website at www.AngelaRender.com.