Tony Hawk uses it, and so do many other celebrities. You can create your own social community with minimal effort and a small investment on your part. One of the biggest questions you should ask yourself, though, is: Does my business benefit more from a Facebook fan page or group, or would I fare better with my own social hub? If you haven’t put much thought into this, perhaps it’s time to assess your strategy and include creating your own social network in the equation.
Many people believe that creating a social network can be a daunting task that requires a lot of know-how and tons of patience. That may be far from the truth, depending on how committed you really are to making it all happen. Just like with every other type of web presence, a social network takes an investment of both time and money with very little reward before you start to reap the benefits.
If it is something that you are contemplating, here are 3 reasons why you should start a social network:
- You can start a dialogue with your clients and partners from your own website, establishing your own community with your own brand name. Perhaps people can come to chat with representatives of your business through office hours.
- Most social network providers include the capability for a blog and a forum. Most people who enter your site won’t be doing back flips when they hear about your social network, so you’re going to need static media to satisfy them, like forums where they can post inquiries regarding a particular product or service you offer.
- You get to share your media with everyone synchronously without restrictions or worrying about getting kicked out of your own platform. It is yours, after all.
Still, considering all the advantages, there are reasons that the whole social network idea might not be right for you:
- Social engagement is difficult if you’re offering a product rather than a service. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but there are more ways to give a service a social aspect rather than a product. You’ll have a lot of inactive accounts if you don’t work the right angle in developing the social scheme. However, your blog can be used as a tool to bring clients right back to your page. You must be consistent with your branding and host social events like contests and giveaways to incite them. It’s much more difficult than it sounds, and might not be worth your while if you have that gut feeling that your business won’t be able to run that kind of show, even after hearing these ideas.
- As of July 2011, Facebook had 750 million active users in its social network. It’s captured the attention of practically everyone and now you have to make your social site attractive enough for them to tolerate coming directly to your site to see your updates instead of seeing them from a fan page on Facebook. Sure, social network providers usually allow you to share your stuff on Facebook, but you need to approach this carefully, or else your users will simply interact with the Facebook side of your business.
Of course there are other reasons, but let’s focus on the best practices:
- Try to make your business as media-rich as possible. Consider making a video channel for your site and hosting weekly media updates. Sharing video is one of the best ways to get your clients and prospects socially engaged.
- As mentioned earlier, host contests and giveaways. Here’s a trick: Make a Facebook fan page, and when you gather enough fans, have them subscribe to your site. Give every subscriber a chance to win something. This kind of engagement comes with a sizzle. Now, it’s your job to keep them engaged. Perhaps you may consider doing this once every few months to remind your clients that you exist. Everyone wants to win something. In this scenario, everyone wins.
- Create advertisements to your social site via other social sites. Perhaps you can create Facebook or LinkedIn ads that help get both average Joes and professionals alike into your community. Facebook ads are particularly lucrative, and don’t necessarily have to run on a daily budget like Google AdWords does.
- A representative we spoke to from Vocus said that you can make the Facebook or Twitter page drive followers to the social network to find out more about your company. In other words, try not to let out so much information on Facebook. Instead, let the client or prospect “click to find out more.”
Looking for someone to host and create your social network? Here are two social network providers that require little to no tech knowledge:
- Hoop.la provides a fully social service that allows your visitors to create accounts, read your blog, participate in your forum, share videos, and tons of other neat stuff! Their prices start at $99 a year. If you want to serve your own advertisements, choose anything above their basic plan, such as the silver plan, which costs $199 a year. With each plan, you get more features added and a higher page view limit.
- Ning gives you a range of features for a social website. Although they’ve done away with third-party plugin providers and no longer offer free services, they continue to serve websites for groups, celebrities, and businesses like Linkin Park, Tony Hawk, and The Twilight Saga. Pricing starts at $2.95 a month for a website with up to 150 members and continue at $59.95 a month for unlimited members.
Remember to choose what’s best for you and decide on whether your business model would successfully accommodate its own social scene, or you should just stick to Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.
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