Introduction to Social Networks
Social networks put the “social” into social media marketing. These specialized websites and apps let users create an account for themselves personally or for their company or organization. Social networks allow people to connect and interact with other users of the same network, as well as provide the ability to publish, share, comment on content, and advertise.
Individuals use social networks to connect with others, communicate and exchange information. The average person in the United States spends almost two hours a day in social networks. As a business owner, you can build your company’s branded presence on social networks to connect with your customers and prospects in the places where they spend their time and focus their attention. Establishing your company’s presence in popular social networks can build brand recognition, help you provide more real-time customer service and even improve how your business shows up in search engine results.
Social networks contain similar features but may use different terminology to describe each one. Each social network offers varying degrees of customization options for your presence. You can expect to have at the minimum the following when you sign up for an account on a social network:
Account - Social networks let you create an account that is displayed publicly when on the network. On Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, individuals can set up personal profiles, but companies and organizations are directed to create business pages or accounts.
Profile Image - All social networks allow you to upload a profile image – also known as an “avatar” or “icon” – that represents your brand such as your company logo, a photograph of your storefront, or some other relevant image.
Bio or About Section - A social network account usually includes space to publish descriptive text such as biographical information, location, age – or in the case of a company, year founded – and additional background. Social networks often use the bio information to help others with related interests locate your account within the network. Each network allows at least one clickable link within the bio that can lead to an outside site such as your company website.
Header or Cover Image - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube let you upload a large image to the top of your account page – called a header or cover image. Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat do not. The header provides a little more visual customization and branding for your account.
Connections - The crux of social networks are the connections you can make and the ability to reach and communicate with those connections. When advertising on social networks, you can also potentially reach others who are linked to your direct connections. On Facebook, connections are called “Friends” on personal profiles, but on company Pages, they are referred to as “Likes” or “Fans.” On Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, you have “Followers.” On Twitter, when two users follow each other, they are elevated from “Followers” to “Friends,” a more direct connection. On LinkedIn, you make Connections. Regardless of the term used, being able to connect to individuals, companies and organizations means anyone can build an audience or following.
Here are some of the most popular social networks where you may want to establish a presence for your company.
Facebook is the largest social network in the United States. Any company can set up a Facebook Page as a public-facing presence on the network. A challenge of communicating through a Facebook Page is that Facebook controls when or if others see the content you post. Facebook’s goal is to prompt you to pay for advertising on their site to increase the visibility of your content. Facebook provides tools to reach individuals on the network through highly targeted ads based on gender, age range, location and even interests. You can set up a Facebook Group for your company as well if you are looking for a more managed community with more interactions and discussions.
Building a following on Twitter can take more time than on Facebook because users are less interconnected. Twitter’s message are called tweets and the “tweetstream” or feed moves quickly and requires more frequent posting than Facebook. Twitter pioneered a briefer way of communicating, limiting text posts to 140 characters long, however the tweet length was increased to 280 characters. Twitter offers advertising options to promote accounts to gain more followers or to promote individual tweets for more interactions.
As a professional, you can create a LinkedIn account that is essentially an enhanced digital resume. As a business owner, you can create a LinkedIn Page for your company. You can post content to your LinkedIn Page similarly to how you post to your Facebook Page. You can also place ads on LinkedIn to promote your content. LinkedIn Groups is another option for creating a company presence on LinkedIn, but like Facebook Groups, the community feature requires more management.
Pinterest is a visual social network for “bookmarking” content using images and videos as the links. Content on Pinterest consists of “Pins” that are archived or “pinned” to theme-based “Boards” that hold similar content. Pinterest is known as one of the social networks that drives traffic to other websites and stimulates sales. You can advertise on Pinterest by paying to boost pins to promote your content.
Owned by Facebook, Instagram is a very popular mobile app and social network that revolves around people sharing photographs and videos. Instagram also has a feature called Stories that imitates temporary posts popularized by Snapchat. See Snapchat below. Companies use Instagram to tell their stories through behind-the-scenes glimpses, creative product shots, lifestyle imagery, graphics, short videos up to a minute in length and reposting content uploaded by other Instagram users. Instagram ads are managed through Facebook’s ad manager although there are fewer ad choices for Instagram accounts versus Facebook Pages.
Snapchat is a social network most popular with younger users that lets you post photos and videos – called “Stories” – that “disappear” after 24 hours. Content posted to Snapchat Stories can now be download to your smartphone to archive or repurpose on other social networks. Snapchat’s advertising option consists of branded “geofilters,” custom filters you can design, upload to the service, and not only specify dates and times the filters should appear but also map out the geographical range where the filters can activate. Snapchat users are presented with your filter based on your advertising parameters and can decorate the images and videos they upload with it.
There are many other social network that can help your company reach a targeted audience, such as SlideShare, a social network based around sharing slideshow presentations and Yelp, a location-based social network where people can review local businesses and “check in” to them to signal when they’re at a specific business.
Choose social networks based on whom you are trying to reach and what you want them to do. You can set up as many social network accounts as you’d like but make sure they are a fit for your company and that you have the resources to maintain them. Understanding what each social network offers is key to picking the right ones for your business marketing.