Many businesses are only just beginning to harness the power of social networking, is this by choice, or is it under duress? Even today many large organisations do not have a social networking policy, the majority of small organisations are still choosing to ignore social and many businesses that do use social are doing it because their market demands it.

Social networking, enhanced by the mobile revolution, has forced businesses to review their own social behaviour. With customers now having the ability to tell all about their experiences, the ability to sell your product for you and the ability to tell the world about the level of service, social cannot be overlooked, whether you have a policy or not.

Social can work in many ways, whether you use it to promote, sell or manage customers there is a huge opportunity to get closer to the people that keep you in business and however you use it, if done well it can forge strong bonds with individuals who will recommend you. In business recommendations sell and in the consumer world things are no different. Aren't you more likely to buy from someone you have been recommended to?

Twitter has fast become the social networking preference for business with it's trending topics, tagging and powerful search function, businesses can quickly respond to comments and feedback that their users post. 40% of twitter users use mobile to communicate, giving users the ability to react instantly, voicing opinion to their followers.

Customer feedback has never been more important and search engines and shopping sites are aggressively incorporating the feedback mechanism to take advantage of the referral process. In effect website customers are selling on behalf of the website owner - customers are generating customers, all thanks to social. This is great news, except it is totally out of the control of business, necessitating good customer services and the need for business to get involved in social, to try to influence in some way. Businesses who operate good policies will succeed, those that don't will quickly be outed thanks to social, this is consumer choice in over-drive.

In 2010 there were 381 million check-in's by users of Facebook. Check-ins give businesses the opportunity to profile their customers with some businesses operating a social marketing policy to take advantage including 'check-in with a friend to receive...' and 'check-in for the first time to receive...' with this latter example blatantly ignoring the existing, repeat customer - it's all about new business. Facebook is still a difficult medium in which businesses are trying to operate, with average click costs high and click through rates low when compared to say Adwords, and trying to build up page followers can be a slow and arduous process, certainly when compared to Twitter.

Social networking is being driven by the communities, the customers, your clients and whether you like it or not, they will have their say, you may as well help to influence and drive a positive message. Whatever business you are in, there really is no choice but to consider how social can help your business. We now seem to be at the stage where businesses are adopting social because they have to, because their competitors are doing it and because their market demands it - but just because you have to doesn't mean you can do it half-heartedly, indeed a badly operated social policy will do you no favours at all.

Ascensor are a web design leeds agency, we develop online marketing strategies that include Social Networking Strategies for business.

Andrew J Firth

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