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Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Bebo… what exactly is social media?

Posted by Louise Palmer on 16th February 2010

Over 350 million people have a Facebook account, 60 million people use Twitter and hundreds of millions of videos are watched on YouTube every single day.  Social media is mainstream , with even the BBC giving Stephen Fry’s threats to abandon Twitter headline news status..

But what is this social media thing all about? Is it just a way to link up with like-minded people, a load of old hype, or does it present real value for businesses, in particular small to medium-sized companies?

I caught up with freelance journalist Guy Clapperton who has just published a new book – “This is Social Media” – and asked him about  demystifying ‘social media’ and  why he thinks business managers and owners everywhere should be thinking about putting social media into their marketing mix.

Can any business get involved in social media, or is it just for the big brands?

Good grief I hope not, or I’ve been wasting my time! Seriously, if a sole trading freelance can get work out of social media then so can anyone. In fact it might be more difficult for a big brand to achieve a consistent voice, weigh up whether to sound personal or businesslike, how to get the right balance.

What are the top five things that any business should think about when it comes to social media?

1. Who your customers and prospects are and where they’re likely to be in terms of social media. Don’t guess at this, treat it as a piece of market research. If they’re not on Twitter then don’t market yourself through Twitter – otherwise you’ll be spending half your time selling the idea of Twitter to them.

2. Observe what’s going on in the networks your prospects are part of. Facebookers tend to think it’s a bit naff to publicise your own blog posts, for example, whereas Tweeters don’t mind it. Don’t think the rules are going to change around you.

3. Don’t go for the hard sell – in just about every part of life it’s really easy to ignore.

4. You might not have started using it yet but if you have any sort of branding the chances are there are people talking about you on Facebook etc. already. It’s important that even if you can’t control it absolutely you get your say.

5. Use it as part of a strategy. In the 1990s a lot of people had bad experiences with their use of the Internet because they thought of it as some sort of bolt-on to the business rather than part of the overall business plan. The same thing is happening again.

Are there any ‘rules of engagement’?

Engage, participate, be seen to be someone who’s contributing rather than just selling.

What are the benefits for smaller businesses?

Although I don’t accept the ‘It’s free!’ argument as your time and that of your colleagues certainly costs money, if well managed it’s inexpensive and easy to get into very quickly.

Can you name examples of who’s doing it well and who’s doing it badly?

I had a problem with my accounting system. I mentioned it on Twitter and they’d offered me a solution within two minutes – I’ve waited on help lines for longer. So 10/10 to MYOB. On the other hand there are the disasters like Habitat, which famously tried to associate all of its Tweets with Iran so that people searching for Iran would find an ad for a sofa or something. Lunacy, and they’d probably agree with me after thumping me for bringing it up yet again.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to a business looking to get into social media?

Plan it like any other promotion and don’t expect miracles – in fact, measure the time you’re putting into it against stated objectives. Like a load of trendy topics it’s been described as a panacea in too many quarters; in my book one of the first things I say is that it might not be right for everyone.

Who should manage social media accounts?

Whoever can make them work. A lone office junior who’s been tasked with running social media might be really into Facebook but won’t necessarily be able to answer all of the queries or action any requests. Think of your desired outcome from social media. Consider what the social media person needs to put into it and how they need to be supported throughout the organisation and see who matches that set of requirements the best.

Louise Palmer

Deftly switching between business and consumer accounts, the focus for Louise remains the same; how can Wildfire tell clients’ stories in a way that is faithful, relevant and engaging? Her wide technology PR experience makes Louise an agile Managing Director, combining the strategic management of PR programmes with a hands-on approach to get under the skin of clients and motivate her teams.