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Introduction to Social Networks
Social networks are a major part of social media marketing. These specialized websites and apps provide users with the ability to create a profile, page or account to connect and interact with other members as well as the ability to publish, share and comment on content and advertise to increase visibility.
People use social networks to personally connect with others and exchange information. As a business owner, you can build your company’s branded presence on these social networks to connect with customers and prospects in the places where they spend their time and focus their attention. Establishing a business presence in popular social networks can improve how your company shows up in search engines and can help you engage in more real-time customer service.
Each social network offers varying degrees of customization for your presence. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube let you upload a large banner graphic at the top of your account page along with a profile image while Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat limit you to a profile image. All of the networks allow you to include a description or bio to link to at least one other website such as your company’s site.
Social networks contain similar features but they may use different terminology. You can expect to at least have the following when you sign up for an account on a social network:
Profile – Social networks let you create a profile that is displayed publicly when you set up an account on the service. On Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn, individual scan set up personal profiles but companies and organizations are directed to creating business pages or accounts. All social network accounts allow you to upload an 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 - Profiles usually include space to publish descriptive text such as biographical information, location, age or year founded, and other background information. Social networks often use your bio information and topics of interest to help connect you to others with similar backgrounds or interests within the network. You can also include at least one clickable link within your bio to another site such as your company website.
Connections – The crux of social networks are the connections you can make and the ability to reach and communicate with those connections as well as their connections. On Facebook, you have “Friends” through your personal profile but on your company Page, those who connect with you are referred to as “Likes” or “Fans”. On Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, you have “Followers.” On Twitter, if you follow someone back who has followed you, you are now elevated to “Friends.” On LinkedIn, you have Connections. Regardless of the term used, being able to connect to individuals to build an audience or following is what makes social networks powerful communications platforms.
Some of the most popular social networks include:
Facebook is the largest social network in the U.S., and as a company, you typically create your public presence on the network by setting up a Facebook Page. The challenge of communicating through a Facebook Page is that Facebook controls when or if others see your content. Facebook’s goal is to encourage you to pay for advertising on their site to increase the visibility of your content. Facebook gives you ability to target their users broadly or in a highly targeted fashion through their ads.
Building a following on Twitter can take more time than on Facebook because it is less interconnected. Twitter’s stream of messages - or tweets - moves quickly and requires more frequent posting than on a Facebook Page. Twitter pioneered a briefer way of communicating, limiting text posts to 140 characters long. Twitter offers advertising options to promote your account to gain more followers or to promote individual tweets for more interactions.
As a professional, you can post the details of your resume on LinkedIn. As a business, you can create a LinkedIn Page to list your business on the site. You can post content to your LinkedIn Page similar to the way you do on your Facebook Page and boost visibility through ads.
Pinterest features images and videos “Pins” that are “pinned” or archived to theme-based “Boards” that hold the bookmarked content. Pinterest is known for driving traffic to other websites and stimulating purchases. You can pay to boost pins like you can on other social networks.
Owned by Facebook, Instagram is an online community and mobile network that revolves around people sharing photographs and video. Companies use Instagram to tell their story through behind-the-scenes glimpses, creative product shots, lifestyle imagery, graphics, and reposting content uploaded by their followers.
As far as mobile social networks go, Snapchat has become very popular even though the photos and videos you can post to the network “disappear” after 24 hours. These days, you can post content to your Snapchat Stories and download them to preserve them. You can purchase branded “geofilters,” custom filters that let Snapchat users decorate their images and videos before they post them.
There are many smaller social networks that could potentially be useful to your company to reach a more targeted market such as SlideShare, a social network based around sharing slideshow presentations and Foursquare’s Swarm app, a location-based social network where people can check in and share details of where they are at any given time including businesses.
Choose social networks based on the audience you are trying to reach and what you want them to do. Set up as many social network accounts that you are willing and able to maintain. Understanding what each social network offers is key to picking the right ones for your business.