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If you think Twitter and Facebook are just for teenagers, you’re missing a massive trick. If you’re still not up to speed, here’s a guide to what Web 2.0 can do for your business.

You know that old saying the more you give, the more you will receive? Truer words were never spoken when it comes to understanding how Web 2.0 and social media marketing can benefit your business. In fact, I was invited to write this article via social media tool Twitter!

It’s perfect for small business owners, it doesn’t cost a cent to use and—most importantly—it can raise awareness, create a following of loyal customers and give you instant feedback allowing you to shape your business around your customer’s needs; a win-win situation.

If Web 2.0 sounds like a mystery to you, or you’re not sure if or how your business can benefit, rest assured if you’ve used the internet in the past couple of years you’ve already been exposed to it. It’s even likely you have participated in it. Have you watched a video on a website? Read a news article and noticed some comments below? Found a service using a search engine  and read reviews about the business? All of these activities can be classified as Web 2.0.

Essentially, the term Web 2.0 can be used to describe the evolution of how people interact with content on the internet. It’s all about interactivity: with content, within personal networks and with businesses. And it’s not just for teenagers. Social media is a result of this new interaction.

Within social media you’ll find the traditional types of media: text, video, images, audio and the new platforms internet users can use to publish and share that media. Social media is all about connection, contribution and conversation. It’s about participating, engaging and adding value to the people you connect with.

Popular social media platforms include Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, Digg, Flickr and YouTube and their usage is growing quickly, month by month. If you want to reach and engage with the new evolution of internet users—including your customers and potential customers—it’s time to get your head around social media.

Marketing using social media
Sound complicated? It’s not. Essentially, social media marketing is a modern day method of word-of-mouth marketing, using rich media, social networking, social news and bookmarking as a way of spreading that word via the internet. Here’s what you need to know: your internet audience (therefore your potential and existing customers) is learning to ignore passive messages like banner advertising and opting for interaction instead. They’ll talk amongst themselves about your business, products or services and, if you want to attract new customers on the internet, you need to add value to this conversation.

How do businesses benefit?

So how do you succeed in the Web 2.0 environment? Your audience expects transparency, honesty and engagement. Your approach needs to be one of relationship building, not the hard sell. While it may be difficult to measure the direct effect it has on the bottom line of your business, the opportunities and rewards will appear if you present yourself authentically. The two greatest benefits of engaging your business in social media are that you can build reputation and trust, two crucial factors when doing business anywhere.

Like anything, seeing the results of your interaction with social media can take time but if you embrace it, you can build a following of loyal customers who will act as brand ambassadors for your businesses. In this word of mouth environment, where advertising is not trusted and trust is gold, that’s priceless. The best news about participating in this new environment is that it costs nothing to use, is incredibly targeted (you can build yourself an audience of people receptive to purchasing your products and services) and is highly effective, making it a perfect internet toolset for business owners.

Using social media to ‘callout’

1.    Create a network of your potential and existing customers using Twitter, Facebook, Linked in, Flickr and You Tube.
2.    Receive immediate feedback to help shape your products and service offerings.
3.    Engage in genuine conversation. Add value to your network and you’ll receive opportunities through building your reputation as an expert.
4.    Build loyalty to create priceless word of mouth marketing between social networks to promote your business.

Which tools should you use?
Let’s take a look at some popular tools and how you can use them in your business, marketing and sales strategy. With every type of social media tool it’s important to spend time updating your profile before you start contributing. You should think of your profile as introducing yourself to people, not your business. Always include a suitable photo, name and location before building your networks.

Blogs
Blogs are the ultimate self-publishing social media tool. You can publish text, video, audio, links and images quickly and easily.  Think of a blog as your home on the internet. You can invite people that you meet through social media to visit your blog, and in turn you can introduce them to your business if they are interested. Again, it is not a place for hard sell, but it is a platform for demonstrating your expertise, introducing your business and building a community through adding valuable content only you can provide. Network by finding related blogs and comment on what others have posted.

Twitter
By now it’s safe to say you’ve heard of Twitter. If you haven’t, you will soon. Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read each other’s updates. Updates are limited to posts of 140 characters and can contain text and links. Use Twitter to build a network of relevant people, give your network a glimpse into your business behind the scenes, offer exclusive promotions and illustrate your passion and knowledge as a business owner. Keep in mind that to be successful in this space you need to add value to the people in your network, Offer them tips, interesting links and inspiring thought.

Facebook
As a business, there are a couple of ways that you can use Facebook. You can create a Page for your business and become friends with people to increase your network, post status updates as a glimpse “behind the scenes” of your business, add links to your website, links to relevant videos and more.
You can also become an administrator of your Page. People can join your page, become a fan of your page and you can send emails to the members of your group.

LinkedIn

Unlike the other social network platforms, LinkedIn is a social networking platform dedicated to business.
Use it to exchange information, ideas and opportunities with those in complimentary industries. Stay informed about your contacts and industry, find the people and knowledge you need to achieve your goals and control your professional identity online.
You can build your network to find potential clients, service providers and to promote your business, knowledge and yourself as an expert in your field.

YouTube

YouTube is a social media platform that allows you to upload and share videos that you have created and interact with other users by commenting on their videos. Use it to create short videos relevant to your business. Demonstrate the use of your products or services and reach a new audience. You can also use these videos on your website.

Flickr
This social media platform is ideal for businesses whose offerings are best represented by a picture, or whose product development is interesting enough for images. Flickr is organised by groups, many that are open to contribution. It is a great example of contributing to an existing network and community where you can add your work.

Again, the value here is by sharing and commenting on pictures to build your reputation as an expert and promote your products/services to a new audience.

Managing Your Online Reputation
A consequence of interactivity, self publishing and ease of content sharing is that people are having a conversation and expressing opinions about your products and services, even your business name right now. If you aren’t aware of what’s being said about you or your business then your ability to minimise negative feedback and maximise positive feedback is diminished.

Start with tracking who is linking to your website by looking through your website visitor analytics. If you haven’t got any analytics installed to track visitors to your website this should be your first point of action. Google Analytics is a free statistics package that can be installed into your website by your web developer and will give you vital information about your website visitors.

The next step is to set up a Google Alert for your personal name and your business name. This will track blogs, articles and mentions of your names. Again, this service is free. Google will send you an email on a schedule selected by you (as it happens, daily, or weekly).

Participating in social media is time-consuming yet incredibly rewarding. Do your research, spend time getting to know the platforms and commit to learning one to start with. Don’t over extend yourself and—most importantly—stick with it. The results may not be immediate but they will benefit your business in ways that you can’t imagine until you try it.

—Clare Lancaster is founder of internet consultancy Dot Marketing and has published a series of practical e-guides to website marketing for small business owners. Visit www.clarelancaster.com.au.

Etiquette for Success

The essence of social media is based on the notion of community and, as with any social framework; the issue of etiquette is an important one.

Participating in social media is like going to a party; it is a two-way conversation and it’s important to be yourself.

Take your time to get a feel for the different tools and the community that utilise them.

Limit self-promotion. Present yourself as a person, not as your brand.  Engage with the community, don’t sell. Add value to the people who you want to connect with, don’t just promote your business/products/services.

When you’re starting out, take time to see how other businesses are using it and think about your strategy and goals but be flexible. The more you use it the more ways you’ll find to incorporate it into your business.

You can follow Dynamic Business (@dynamicbusiness) for daily small business news, updates and tips, and our editor Jen Bishop (@jenbishopsydney) on Twitter.

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