Social Networking Sites Good for Business
By: JOHN ANASTASI
Bucks County Courier Times
It’s a way to connect with new customers, communicate with a target market, and increase sales, advises a speaker at a business technology forum.
It wasn’t all that long ago that people were wondering whether setting up e-mail accounts and Web sites for their businesses would be worth the trouble.
Today, business owners are asking the same questions about social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Just as it was then, the answer today is “yes,” according Donna Serdula, of Northampton-based DonnaTechDesigns.
Serdula told professionals at a Lower Bucks County Chamber of Commerce Business Technology Forum Friday that there are definitely ways businesses can use the medium to connect with new customers, communicate with their target markets, and increase sales.
“Social media is conversation that takes place on the Internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Serdula. “Word of mouth is taking off at a much faster pace than before.”
Twitter allows users to submit short, concise text-message style posts, or “Tweets” that are published at twitter.com and can be viewed by all but are specifically aimed at members of a network of “followers” the users collect.
Facebook, the fastest-growing social network in the world, allows users to build Internet pages to share information, photographs, and activity updates while allowing their “friends” to comment on virtually everything they post.
LinkedIn is a social network that caters to professionals. While online, users can post resumes, share their work history and build a list of contacts who can post professional recommendations for each other.
Serdula told the forum’s participants not to spread themselves too thin by trying to maintain a presence on every social networking site. Instead, she encouraged them to find out where their customers are hanging out.
“If your audience is on Facebook, why are you Tweeting?” she asked rhetorically.
She said Twitter users tend to skew young and male; Facebook boasts a larger percentage of women; and the average LinkedIn member is slightly older and better paid than the other two sites.
Once businesses figure out where they should focus their efforts, they should start expanding their networks.
“Don’t get the impression that if you build it, they will come,” Serdula said. “Start telling people. Put it on your business card: Follow me on Facebook or Twitter. We are so miniscule in this ocean. We have to splash really hard.”
Even larger companies do that, she said.
For example, Reedman Toll Auto World in Middletown advertises its Facebook page on customer invoices.
Companies can use social networking to talk about their products and services, find out what their customers are thinking and gather feedback.
“There’s always going to be someone who’s unhappy. Even if you’re not there, unfortunately things are still being said, so wouldn’t you rather be there to see it and respond?” said Serdula, who added it would be worse if one of the company’s competitors saw it and responded.
William Blacker, of Home Instead Senior Care in Middletown, uses LinkedIn. He acknowledged the importance of keeping up with the times, but worried that businesses could use a slickly produced social media presence to make the company look more-reputable and more professional than it really is.
“I’m a fish out of water with this,” he said. “I want to learn more because it is what is. But I think it gives the opportunity for companies that don’t have a lot of substance behind what they do to really create a following.”
Serdula responded that companies can be dishonest on their pages, but the good news is that customers’ ability to comment on the business using the social media sites can expose such dishonesty.
Following Serdula’s presentation, Bucks First Federal Credit Union’s Gary Balakoff walked participants through Twitter’s Web site and showed them how to register and use the service.
The credit union uses social media sites to aim a new financial literacy initiative – Project Flipside – straight at young people.
“The best advice I can give is that social media should complement what you’re already doing,” he said. “It shouldn’t replace it.”