How is business using social media?

imageThe world has seen a phenomenal increase in the use of social media in recent years. Here we examine how businesses are utilising this key communication tool.

Once deemed a fad that wouldn’t last by internet sceptics, social media has undergone extraordinary growth, creating a vital new dimension for connecting businesses. Platforms such as micro-blogging site Twitter and professional online network LinkedIn are now key business tools. Many companies use social networking to market their firms online for minimal costs. But, largely due to lack of time, few make the most of the opportunities it can offer. There are significant benefits to be gained from engaging in this new phenomena but it requires clear objectives, a strategy and the time and effort to invest in getting it right.

The IoD has increased its use of social media in recent years, enabling members to network, communicate and share information. The number of members who are part of the exclusive IoD LinkedIn networking group has now reached more than 6,000 people. At the same time our presence on Twitter is growing and at the latest count the IoD was providing interesting bite sized pieces of news and key Web-links to more than 5,000 followers.

“Social media is proving to be an excellent additional channel through which people can market their business,” says IoD Community Manager, Vicki McIvor. “People need to consider the resources that are required though. My advice is don’t jump on the bandwagon unless you can fully support it because while the media channel itself is relatively low-cost, it can be incredibly time-consuming and resource intensive,” she adds. “It is also worth remembering that anything you put online has the potential to be seen for a long time and by an extremely wide audience,” McIvor advises.

LinkedIn

With over 100m members in more than 200 countries and a million more signing up every week, LinkedIn is now the largest online professional network. Members can use it to create likeminded connections, engage in group discussions, increase their company profile, keep up-to date with industry news or simply stay in touch with colleagues and friends.

Member of the Central London Young Directors Forum Committee and Founder of social media start-up, Connectegrity, Linda Cheung says it’s important to get your profile right if you’re going to get the most out of using the site. “Nowadays when somebody wants to find out about you and your business they will Google it,” she says. “Because it’s so highly optimised for search engines your LinkedIn profile will probably come up ahead of your company website so it’s the first impression you will make,” she adds.

For a LinkedIn profile to be effective it needs to present a personal summary and a mission statement, which generates interest and allows the individual to connect with other like-minded professionals worldwide.

Dan Hawes is Co-founder of the Graduate Recruitment Bureau and is an active member of the IoD LinkedIn group. He uses it as a channel for discussing graduate recruitment issues, meeting new people and extending his network. “LinkedIn is a natural launch pad for a face-to-face meeting, which social media networking alone will never replace,” Dawes says. “It can be an effective icebreaker ahead of attending a larger networking event but you have to build a set of LinkedIn connections first,” he adds. “If you want to approach a LinkedIn member who doesn’t know you, you need a compelling reason for doing so. If you show them you have read their profile and found it interesting then when you introduce yourself, you are more likely to get a prompt and enthusiastic response,” he advises.

When attending events and meeting potential contacts, people usually hand out their business cards. LinkedIn may be regarded as an online equivalent to this. But just like a face-to-face meeting, it is important to give prospective business connections a reason to join your network.

Twitter

If LinkedIn is a way for people to showcase their business CV, Twitter is a platform for their virtual voice. It is possible to “tweet” at any time and in almost any situation. It is a means of sharing conversations beyond the confines of a room, engaging with a greater number of people and creating more opportunities, whether they are business or social. This year significant event information will be tweeted in the lead up to, and on the day of, the IoD Annual Convention.

To get the best out of Twitter the key is for individuals to be strategic and clear about their objectives. They need to know what they want to say, who to say it to, and how to say it. “With Twitter it’s all about your choice of words and tone of voice,” says Cheung. “With only 140 characters to use per tweet this can still tell people a great deal about you and your business,”
she adds.

Blogs

Posting Web-links via Twitter is also a way for people to steer followers towards their blogs, another social media outlet on the rise. Blogs are online journals or diaries through which an individual or a number of contributors provides observations on news and events, and links to useful websites. Although they preceded popular sites like LinkedIn, Myspace and Facebook, it’s only recently that blogs became an essential component of the social media toolkit. They are now widely used by businesses and other organisations, including this blog by the IoD.

“Blogs are critical to businesses now,” admits Cheung. “They are a valuable opportunity to show your expertise and keep your website active and high up in the search engine optimisation (SEO) rankings,” she says. “Be consistent and try to blog at least once a week – certainly no less than once a month – and make it topical, sharing information as an expert,” Cheung advises. “Ultimately, what all business owners want is to promote themselves,” she adds.

Jason Choy, Chief Executive of Welcome Gate, is also a member of the Young Directors Forum and an advocate for using social media in business. He recently joined Twitter and is about to add a regular blog to his company website. “What I’m starting to realise about blogging is the importance of being a source of knowledge and offering something of value to readers,” he says. “You can blog about a controversial or very focused topic and readers can comment, agree or disagree with you as long as it is based on what you stand for – your individual voice. If you’re going to outsource your blogs or tweets because you don’t have time to do it yourself then you’re really missing the point,” he adds.

Choy is also a regular user of IoD’s LinkedIn Group. He says it’s directly benefited his business through the advice, new contacts and wider access it’s provided. Social media offers a diverse outlet for communicating. Some people regard it as an instant messaging service, while others view it as a broadcast, mail-shot style facility and send out links to their latest article or news piece.

IoD member Louise Third, Director of Nottingham PR and marketing consultancy Integra, believes the most successful, media-savvy business leaders are using social media to have meaningful conversations with other busy individuals. “It is about knowing what you want to achieve,” she says. “Directors and owners of small businesses are time poor and engaging with social media can be very time-consuming,” she continues. “I join groups such as IoD LinkedIn, where I can meet new people who may be beneficial to my business – potential customers, suppliers, advisers or even opinion formers,” she adds. “You need to be sure people are as interested in talking to you as you are to them otherwise, just as in a face-to-face networking environment, they will move on,” Third advises.


Adapted from an article written by Alison Coleman for the May issue of IoD News

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