Social networking for businesses

Social networking for businesses

The social media landscape by Fred Cavazza: Social networking in business is about how to use this new set of tools for commercial purposes.

The social media landscape by Fred Cavazza: Social networking in business is about how to use this new set of tools for commercial purposes.

Far from just an addition to our lifestyle, social networking is proving to be an important tool for business organisations. i-Tech put some questions to Gege Gatt, founder and director of ICON, the web solutions company which has been promoting social networking for business for the last couple of years.

Businesses are starting to exploit social networking. What is their approach?

There is definitely a strong awareness of social networking. Quite a few businesses are completely on board and sold on social media, while others are approaching it slowly and with caution. Obviously there are always going to be some that completely refuse to exploit this medium.

What aspects of social networking are being used most by businesses?

There are myriad ways to use social networking in business. Unfortunately most companies still focus more on the tools rather than the message. This is entirely incorrect. It is about how to use this new set of tools for business purposes. Specifically, it is about the alignment of a social business strategy with the mainstream business objectives.

Locally the most used tools are Facebook and Twitter. Many businesses use (and abuse) Facebook pages and groups in tandem with their existing websites, as well as running Facebook ad campaigns. Twitter, although less popular on the local scene, is a world-leading player in the social media game.

How is social networking best used in business overseas and in Malta?

The largest computer manufacturer worldwide is Dell. Not only does Dell own multiple Twitter accounts through which it tweets new products and special offers, but its CEO tweets regularly from his personal profile at What this means, in essence, is that the CEO of a $60 billion company with 100,000 employees is letting you know what he thinks daily - and you can interact with him and put forward your ideas.

Ford, one of the automotive industry giants, has appointed a head of social media, Scott Monty, "to humanise the Ford brand and put consumers in touch with Ford employees".

The Marriott International chain of hotels also tweets regularly.

The 17th biggest Facebook fan page globally is Coca Cola. This is calculated according to the largest number of fans. Incidentally, the late Michael Jackson's fan page has the most, at 10,551,163. Are 10 million followers not invaluable for any brand, be it a personal or business brand?

As for local examples, quite a few businesses use Facebook pages to keep their customers abreast of new products, special offers and as a communication forum. These include new online startups and long-established firms.

Social networks have worked very well for brands both big and small. With tens of thousands of Maltese on Facebook alone, it is obvious that if paired with the right strategy and message, the returns to be made from exploiting these new media tools are massive. Where else are you likely to find such huge crowds, coupled with extremely strong demographic targeting?

What are the basic steps a local small business should undertake to start using social networking?

Plan, and plan well. At minimum, you need to think of four things before you start.

Who is your audience? You need to know this, or at least, what kind of audience you are trying to capture. Find out where your people are "hanging out" online, what they are doing, what they like, and then craft your messaging to reflect that.

Very clear goal. Don't get into social media simply for the sake of it. It will overwhelm and perplex you. However, if you carefully craft your parameters and goals, it will be fruitful and rewarding. Are you after brand awareness, do you want to create another channel for customer feedback, do you want to craft a new sales channel? At this point you also need to listen. Research your own brand and your competitors, find out what people are saying about you and your ilk. You must understand that the power is now in the hands of consumers.

Plan your actions. Next up is talking to the experts. Find people or brands who run successfully on and with social media, ask them about their mistakes, fears and what they have learnt. Draw up time frames and targets for what is going to be "live" by when. And now it's the time to get excited!

Tools, tactics and techniques: Tools may include analytical site traffic tools, coupon codes, online submission forms, as well as larger infrastructures, such as an e-commerce platform if you don't own one. The tactics one adopts on social media are also paramount. Do not preach, do not sell hard! We are surrounded by marketing, and a large portion of it fails.

What about privacy and security issues in social networking for businesses?

Rather than technical risk or security infringements, social networks expose your brand to customer feedback. This means that now criticism and complaints will be more public than ever. This is not as bad as it may sound, remember that if someone takes time to let you know what is wrong with your product, you should listen to them; they are your best customers! Don't get defensive - explain your point and be diplomatic. Remember, you are doing this in a public forum.

Is social networking really here to stay or is it just a fad?

The evidence seems to point towards social networks becoming ever more ubiquitous. Facebook exceeded Google in global traffic only very recently. Farmville, the infamous online game, was launched in June 2009, and by October of that year had over 60 million users. Locally, Hi5 was once the flagship of social networks. Now, it's been crushed by Facebook.

With the advent of OpenID, allowing users a single point of log in for e-mail and all social networks, it seems that rather than an abandonment of social media, what is next is a massive consolidation. People are spending more hours online than ever, so if any social networks do die out, new models will be readily available to replace them.

How can your company support businesses to successfully exploit social networking?

Icon has, for the last decade, explored the strategic side of communication and coupled this with a deep technical understanding of the web. Our approach to social media has always been rooted in two strong principles: return on investment and measurability, age-old commercial desirables.

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