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Jul 2010

Are you Linked In?

Posted in Business tactics, Contact, Social Media | 4 Comments »

Not too long ago, I stated that LinkedIn wasn’t as popular as Facebook. I’ll be honest, I thought it would get sucked into the heaving morass of social media that is Facebook a la The Blob in the not-too-distant future. But seemingly, Mashable’s ever-impressive documentation of statistics has proved me wrong.

Nope, that figure isn’t false. Two billion dollars. Admittedly, it doesn’t hold a candle to the ridiculous worth of Facebook, but it’s an impressive display of what happens when you create a social networking site that focuses on the business side of things.

Far too many people are getting caught out doing silly things at parties via Facebook, but their LinkedIn profiles? Immaculate. Neat CV structure, experience, formal and (sometimes) well-worded recommendations from ex-colleagues or clients go a long way to improving someone’s online image.

We like the attitude of sites like LinkedIn. It’s a site that really devotes itself to providing as much information for every industry possible within its expansive networking system, and its this system that proves to be so popular.

It’s rather like networking at an industry event – you know the PR, and you know a few fellow journalists, who in turn, may know bigger journalists, who know or may even be related to the big people at the top of the corporate food chain. Now, hassling your way through endless degrees of separation at a cocktail party or a product launch can be mentally exhausting.

However, do it on LinkedIn and it’s simply seen as a normal, everyday activity. You’d be shocked to see who you can link to through the LinkedIn’s connection system, and getting your contacts to introduce you (via a simple series of clicks) is an incredibly powerful business tool.

It’s also a fantastic forum for people who work freelance or contract to discuss challenges they may be having at work in an environment where it makes them look productive, rather than simply incompetent. I’m a member of a few writing groups, and I have the writing questions section up on my welcome page. I’ve seen authors, copywriters and marketing veterans write long screeds out of the kindness of their hearts, and it’s fantastic to see a personal favourite author of yours take up someone’s question and run with it.

It’s not about friendship, sadly, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be. Although the LinkedIn ‘adding connections’ system does indeed seem to be geared towards business – asking you if you worked with/for/alongside/above them or if you’re simply an ‘other’, certainly it isn’t openly telling you to get all your mates to listen the second you’re done posing for your display picture. But make use of linking yourself to your friends and justifying it to the system, and you’ll soon realise that Barry at the pub actually works in a similar industry to you, and that PR bloke you’ve been hunting for months is actually one of his work colleagues.

It’s a great platform to promote a business from, and being able to both apply for and post jobs on its impressive employment section effectively turns it into a combination of business newspaper, job site and business network. It doesn’t mess about – your employment history and recommendations requirements (though optional, are encouraged though the use of phrases like “one more recommendation and your profile will be 100% complete!) really do make sure you know why you’re logged in here – to work, and to liaise.

It’s a different kind of Facebook. The galleries may be gone, and everyone’s a little less relaxed, but the politics, networking and digging through people’s history is essentially the same. Having the CV of a personal favourite author or copywriter at your fingertips is gold, and being able to see how the CEO of a company you want to emulate got to where he was is always going to trump “liking” that photo of his yacht.

(Note: those looking for my personal LinkedIn can find it here.)

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Jul 2010

Half a billion and counting…

Posted in Contact, Usability | 0 Comments

Yep, it’s official – Facebook has hit 500 million users, and the internet continues its struggle for dominance over our lives and minds. Quite frankly, I think it happened years ago, but I’m sure many people paranoid about how much time they really spend on social networking sites would love to disagree with me, especially in front of their line manager.

Sometimes, I wonder how big Facebook’s going to get, really. With Mark Zuckerberg due to appear on The Simpsons, Facebook’s fame will be cemented in history, a history that is now digitally catalogued, stored, and compiled into the amateur encyclopaedia that is Wikipedia. That being said, are we truly grateful to Facebook for what it’s done to the internet?

For one thing, it’s connected 500 million people, and you simply can’t disagree with that statistic. It’s an incredible achievement, and one that the forefathers of the World Wide Web would be proud to see occur. However, it also means 500 million people are slowly exposing more and more of themselves to their employers, rivals, the press and to the darker agents sifting through Facebook’s many groups and friend networks.

It’s like the six degrees of separation, only multiplied to the nth degree. People are losing their jobs after whining about their employers, but that’s only possible because they’re publicising the wrong parts of themselves. If you’re a high-profile businessman, that gallery of Bangkok pictures is probably a silly idea. Basic stuff, no?

It just proves we’re still learning when it comes to technology that made its debut less than a couple of decades earlier. People are still releasing potentially harmful information about themselves onto the web, other people (or, intelligence-wise, the same people, really) are buying the iPhone 4 despite the recorded flaws, and most still get Windows releases even though we know they won’t work near-perfectly for almost half a decade.

At the same time, we’re more connected than ever before, and this has advanced politics, social networking, business networking. Hell, I may not be the biggest advocate of Facebook around, but I respect and know the power of it, and my LinkedIn account helps me get recommendations I can then use when I’m bigging myself up somewhere else.

LinkedIn, however, is rather different to Facebook. There’s no gossip, no controversy, no intimate details, just pure business, and the odd brown-nosed recommendation from someone you’ve hardly worked with who’d like to be introduced to that CEO you know. It’s more competitive, more serious, and for that reason, far more likely to fail.

Look at society – down go the serious films, up come the comic book movies. Down goes the classic literature, up comes vampire novels. We’re entering into a paradise of fun, of not caring about the more serious ways of enjoying ourselves, and aiming instead for the appealing, the easy, the simply enjoyable and the indulgent warmth that comes with that.

For this reason, Facebook will, in my opinion, hit a billion users well before 2015. This sounds like a mind-bending figure, but it’s not. Once the tweens reach adulthood, and the ever-younger net users hit the right age to start surfing, we’ll see a generation of social networkers who don’t even know what a VHS is. Doesn’t that terrify you? Terrifies me, all right.

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May 2010

Small businesses use social media: True or False

Posted in Social Media | 4 Comments »

If asked whether small businesses currently use social media, most of us would reply ‘of course’ and wonder why I’m even bringing it up. Well, all I seem to read about nowadays is how small businesses are benefiting from social media and using it to expand their businesses. Even my colleague Christos Reid wrote an blog titled ‘Businesses are growing through social media’. However, I know a number of people who have small businesses, admittedly many of whom aren’t in the ‘digital’ industry, that don’t use social media as their main tool for growth. This got me thinking and led to some research to see if this was really the case.

Expelling the myth

One of the most interesting things I found was a survey carried out by Citibank which clearly shows that small businesses are not, in fact, using social media. Out of the 552 small businesses surveyed throughout America, in the last year 37% of small businesses have not used a website to increase business for their company and a huge 84% have not used e-commerce to sell their services or products. What’s more 62% don’t even use basic email as tool for drumming up business. These are quite astounding statistics, in a country were about 76% of the population use the internet regularly, yet such a tiny proportion do not use it to fully benefit their businesses.

Of those who do have a website, 74% say that it has been effective at generating more business. So, why haven’t others picked up on this? This isn’t the only contradictory piece of information found in the survey. 63% said that word of mouth is the most effective marketing tool, yet they hadn’t translated this to the online world. 81% said they haven’t used Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin. Of those who do use social media sites, 47% said they didn’t think they were of any use to their business. 21% thought the sites are most suitable for personal rather than business use, and 18% said they thought they didn’t know how to use the sites well enough to benefit their businesses.

That’s just basic marketing techniques, if we look at slightly more advanced methods like SEO, PPC or banner adverts, over half of the businesses surveyed haven’t used them either.

What on earth is going on?

Now we know that American small businesses are not taking full advantage of social media, but we don’t really know why. I have tried to find statistics for the UK, but there does not seem to be an equivalent survey. It would be interesting to see if UK businesses are also shunning social media or if we are more technologically savvy.

It seems that age does matter, the older the person behind the business, the less likely they are to use social media as a marketing tool. It makes sense, the younger generation or millennial generation as it is known, have grown up with social media sites, they didn’t have pen-pals, they had friends and followers. Whereas the older generation have had to adapt to it. My dad is still slightly miffed by the whole thing, he asks me why I can’t just talk to these people and why I have to spend hours spying on my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. If he can’t understand that, then I can’t see him using Facebook as a means to gain extra clients.

The Citibank survey confirmed this, showing that small business executives of 45-years-old and over are less likely to use online tools than younger business executives. A healthy-ish 27% of executives under-45 used social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter as marketing tools in the last 12 months, while only 16% of those who are 45 or over used them.

You can teach an old dog new tricks.

If the case is that the older generation simply don’t fully understand how to use social networking to help their business, then surely this is easy to solve? The Citibank survey shows that those who do use social media for their small business have found it beneficial. Gradually more and more people will start doing the same. Social media is a great marketing tool and anyone who does use it is likely to say the same. People need to see that social networking is not as daunting as it looks, and once you’ve got the hang of it, you will see your business grow.

Some people refuse to use social networking sites because of security fears. So, what you can do is encourage those around you who don’t use social media sites, to start a Facebook page or Twitter account:

  • Remind them that now you can have a pretty secure Facebook page, which will only allow those you want to see things.
  • If they don’t want people to see certain things, don’t put them up in the first place, it’s as simple as that.
  • Update their sites at least twice a day to get the most from it.
  • Help them find groups or trends to follow that they will find interesting and relate to them, so they can start getting involved with dialogue.
  • You want them to realise that a part of these sites is about self publicity. If you post your blog on Facebook, it generates traffic to your blog. Once the social media shy see this, they will see the power and benefit that these sites offer.

Once they have found their footing with a personal account, it shouldn’t be hard to help them move over to a business account. There are hundreds of videos and blogs that can help. They will soon see that it is more beneficial using Facebook to network with business clients, than just with old friends.

And the future?

The Citibank survey found positive answers for the future. 72 % say they are likely to use a website for marketing or expanding their business in the next 12 months – up 14% from those who do today. 24% are likely use e-commerce to sell their products or services online over the next 12 months – up 50% from those who do today. And 30 % say they intend to use social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin for marketing or expanding their business – up 58% from those who do today.

Get Tweeting for your business!
Whether this is all just wishful thinking, only time will tell. What this has showed us, however, is that bloggers, SEO guys and social media commentators believe that small business are already using online channels to the full, and reaping the benefits. We’ll just have to wait and see if all this hype will turn into money for small businesses.

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