This is networking with clients and organisations using web-based tools and social media or specialist networks. It’s an exciting new way to connect with people where they’re already connected, but also to reach out and represent your organisation on the vast online marketplace.
There are numerous benefits to using these sites to connect with clients. When done correctly you can deliver information quickly and easily to clients, organisations and other individuals that interest you.
One of these is that you can connect to new clients in real time. No need to wait for seminars, pay for travel or even provide materials- online profiles can be used a limitless amount of times and you’re always connected, day or night.
With some of these sites (such as LinkedIn) there is such a wealth of corporate information that you can not only check your clients, but the clients of your clients and start to develop networks. These networks in turn provide you with a countless number of opportunities.
These are also incredibly cost effective methods of promotion as almost-all of them offer free profile options. Only if you want extended or extra features do you have to start paying.
This has a two-fold effect. The first is that if you want to try sites, see which work for you and see if the whole idea is even useful- you can. Cost free and if you don’t like what you find you can almost-always deactivate your account afterwards. The second is that you don’t have to worry about laying out thousands in implementation costs; this can be especially useful if you’re a new/small business.
The final (and arguably most important) benefit of these sites is that there are already thousands of clients, organisations and everyday people connected to them. These are the kind of people you may want to connect to. But, most importantly these are the people you can connect to quickly and easily.
This is also partly the reason they are so cost effective, you could decide to set up your own networks to do the exact same thing- but why spend on maintenance and implementation when Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn could be doing the same thing?
There are no ways that these sites can actually be a drawback to your organisation as a whole; however, there are ways they can become less than pleasant.
Spamming is one of the most annoying facets of the internet- meaningless, repetitive and pointless updates re-posted a dozen times to “get them noticed”. This isn’t necessarily limited to your content but your advertising. Remember that a social media site is just an extension of your organisation, which means it represents your organisation, so don’t do anything that would harm your corporate reputation.
Connecting to every social media site you can find is also a pretty bad idea as some won’t be relevant, some will and some will most likely be very useful.
It’s just that you won’t be able to distinguish which when you have too many and any buttons or link-backs you have on your site(s) will be cluttered, annoying and messy. This not only puts some users off but detracts from your layout and carefully planned design and implementation of features.
Also remember that there are real people behind the users you are connecting to. If you want to develop a decent, well-established and respectable host of sites don’t ignore or berate users. If there’s an issue- raise it with a site moderator. If someone doesn’t reply to your network request just leave it be, don’t re-add several times as not only will it put that client off but their clients will probably find out.
So be smart, proactive and try to make these sites as personable and professional as you can- more than ever organisations are looking to connect with people- to do this they need an adequate platform and social media is that platform.
It may not seem entirely credible to use social media as corporate tools- but many of these sites incorporate elements for just that purpose. Such as paid advertising schemes designed to bring users to your page, or particular business accounts whereby you’re given options of a more corporate and professional nature.
In fact, if you’re an organisation committed to being more personable with your customers then this is a great way to achieve that. Friendly, informal and brief interactions on social media sites will definitely help pass your name around to potential clients, customers and organisations.
But, even if you’re not, this is a great way to get to know some of your clients and customers better. Not to mention it can bring an insight into the kinds of things they are looking for or interested in. All of which can be invaluable information for marketing or even just trying to understand clients, after all- you want to know what your clients are saying and doing so you know how best to provide for them.
Besides, were you to look up most of your larger competitors you will find that most of them are using social media sites. Twitter, in particular, seems to be a widely used corporate tool.
2.0 How to use e-Networking
This form of networking has few differences to traditional networking. With ever-advancing technology, more support, more hardware and more options for how you network using the internet- it’s never been better to!
Though (before you can start to utilise this fantastic technology), there a few ground rules that are generally considered good etiquette to follow.
2.2 Good etiquette
Firstly, e-Networking is no different to traditional networking when it comes to putting your organisation and your brand across. These are real people, they want to network just like you and they’re interested in new and relevant information.
Don’t spam (as said above) and always research and follow the rules of the sites you’re on. Some may have posting or content limitations; some may not accept repeated linking and posting several times a day. But most of all, when networking, build up a rapport with your clients with which you listen as much as you share information.
Secondly, spend a while researching the different options you have and see which ones are most beneficial. Sites like Facebook, for instance, are better for connecting with people behind organisations rather than organisations themselves. While, on LinkedIn there are more opportunities to connect with both- and being a professional service- often more information as well.
Twitter is great for when you want to share small amounts of information which can be useful for advertising, updating clients, sharing new information and so on.
Some industries have specialist networks designed just for that kind of information or those organisations, these can be more applicable if you’re hunting for information and news rather than contacts.
It may seem like a long drawn-out process spending hours at a time going through sites, networks and possibilities but focused (and accurate) networking is key to success and an increased clientele.
Thirdly, think of how these sites connect to each other and how they work together.
All of these sites can be used for a form of sharing information- but why have several different applications doing the same job?
Something like Twitter can be useful for providing a gateway to the more information-heavy sites like Blogger. In turn, something like Facebook could be used for promotion and linked to the Twitter account so that, if they’re not following all of your sites, depending on what they follow they get interesting information.
Through Twitter this would be links and light information, Blogger would be the central hub of information and resources while Facebook would be the middle-man and provide a bit of both. While it may seem like a great idea to have all sites doing the same as then no-one can miss anything- it’s also a really bad idea.
This is because there are character restrictions on Twitter, Facebook and others. They vary and they look really poorly implemented when the same information is recycled, which is not what you want when trying to bring clients in. Not to mention if they are following all of your sites then they’re going to see the same thing several times!
Let them decide from where they’re going to access your information and then provide them with the information they ask for.
It’s kind of a similar situation to subscription based information.
You wouldn’t give every subscriber the same information as they each pay for a different level/topic of content. Social media sites are no different- people expect certain things from certain sites. They want easy to digest information and links on Twitter. They like interesting and varied updates that stand out on Facebook. They will know that blogs are the one-click-stop to a whole host of information.
2.3 Not a game of numbers and friends
On many social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and Blogger there’s an increased amount of emphasis put on friends/followers. On Twitter, Blogger and Facebook fan pages these are all followers. On Facebook for personal use these are friends. Other sites have equally similar methods of connecting clients together.
These are all great forms of feedback and indications of just how far your network has grown- but they’re not all-important.
LinkedIn provides us with the best example of why, in that, via the use of LinkedIn, we build up networks of clients. When we connect to one client we’re actually connecting to all of their clients, too. Except, for now, we’re not actually interacting with them- but as our network grows our “friends of friends” grow as well.
Therefore, when targeting people and new clients think about how their contacts will be useful to you. Not just them. In the same way don’t think that becoming friends with or following everyone guarantees success.
The key to being able to use social media sites commercially is to connect with the right people and keep a small, constantly updated and loyal client base.
It is all too easy to think that 100+ friends or followers means you have a great deal of activity- but how many are reading your site? Why? What are they looking for? Are they even reading your site?
A common tactic on many of these sites (mostly for unknown users) is to follow or become friends with someone in hopes of bringing their friend count up. Therefore, are these people actually reading or interested? Or have they simply hidden your feed from their updates page and are just a number on your page?
Customising your social media sites is a part of using e-Networking. This is because sites like Blogger come with preset templates which are used worldwide. They look nice but they don’t really show how serious you are- if this is going to become a corporate tool then you want it to be unique and tailored to your organisation.
In some cases (as detailed later) there is limited customisability, but if you can change even a single thing on any of these pages that makes it more unique you should. With extensive customisability the only limits you have are on your imagination, skill and resources. Equally a consistent theme, layout and set of colours across all of your websites is professional and looks great.
2.5 Benefits of e-Networking
- Share or gain new ideas
- Mix with your peers or like-minded people
- Find out what your competitors are up to
- Gather general or specific Industry information
- Get help with problems from people with appropriate knowledge and experience
- Keep up to date with new industry developments, regulations and policies
- Form relationships with potential business partners and collaborators
3.0 Looking to the future
Social media has expanded massively in the last few years and it’s not likely that it will slow down any time soon. What is likely, however, is that the technologies associated with it will continue to grow and we will see even more advancements.
These should be of consideration to all users as we will be expected to change with these sites should we continue to use them.
3.2 Technological evolution
This can be mostly attributed to the wider availability of internet service coverage and more people now using the internet. Equally the advancements with mobile technology, these have made it possible to update pages and blogs from mobile devices and even to provide mobile phone compatible websites.
These can be utilised in a small part, in the future, to provide a greater coverage and availability to your information and websites. These are the kinds of technology that you should be looking at in a year or so and choosing how best to use them.
The rather problematic, but equally insanely successful, element of the internet is that it is forever changing. New technology and advancements in current technology provide these changes. Users provide these changes. A greater focus on the internet for social and corporate uses provides these changes.
We won’t be able to avoid them as much as we’d prefer not to have to constantly update and maintain websites, but this is how to get the best from the internet. Change with the times and try to keep as up to date as possible. Use new technology where possible and try to do as much as you can to make sure your information is still accessible and interesting.
Who knows, in twenty years time we may not even have websites as such- but a large network of information- and feeds of information being directly downloaded to our machines every day.
4.0 Using user feedback
Unlike reading the user’s experience, feedback is often sent directly from users in either a positive or negative manner.
In some cases, and due to cross-browser integration, there are errors that appear only for certain users who use certain web browsers. In other cases the errors and positive points are universal and are more applicable for using them as feedback.
4.2 Feedback systems
For many social media sites there are a number of in-built feedback systems. On Facebook you have the ‘Like’ system, whereby you can like certain updates that appeal to you. Through Blogger you can add interactions to your posts which allow users to rate posts; these are fully customisable and can be called anything you wish such as “Informative”, “Interesting” and “Dull”. With Twitter there is an option to re-Tweet posts that have been posted by various users.
In each of these cases they can be used to see how users are enjoying your content.
If a particular update has been re-Tweeted a few dozen times then people are obviously finding it very useful, interesting or something that people could use. If posts on Blogger are constantly receiving “Dull” ratings then you can tell there’s something wrong with the content, not necessarily what, but you know that users are not enjoying the content.
On Facebook if you are receiving no feedback whatsoever on your content and your weekly user rate is going down, then you know there’s something wrong there too.
4.3 Expanding through feedback
The next section is complementary to reading the user experience, as with the feedback these two tools can help you create a more efficient and effective site.
If you have some indication that the content is either enjoyable or not so then you need to find out why, in either case. Some may consider that feedback of a positive nature is instantly good and you should be happy you get it- but if you don’t know why- you’re going to lose it.
Therefore, never be afraid to contact your users and see what they’re actually thinking or saying. Not only does it give you a more personable image, it shows that you’re actually interested in what they want and it can be beneficial if it makes you more successful.
Under the widgets section many of these sites also have polls and such, these are excellent resources to gauge user response especially when they’re built into the site. This is an easy way to get simple questions answered, such as “What do you think of the new layout?” or “What do you like about our page?”
These are very useful questions and answers but they can sometimes be difficult to acquire through natural user activities.
5.0 Reading the user experience
In order to see whether social media sites are a viable option for your organisation you must analyse user responses. While we may have explored user feedback previously, this is a slightly different practice which involves web analysis tools.
5.2 Web analysis tools
These tools can accurately analyse how many people are visiting your site, how many are staying, for how long and for what reason. Are they staying on certain pages? Are they clicking through to certain information? Are they going where you want them to when they first arrive?
Some of the more advanced web analysis tools can even derive what users have searched for and how they found you in the first place. All of this is invaluable information about how you can get the best out of your social media sites.
This is because even if you have expert-grade information, if no-one is staying long enough then no-one is likely to be reading it. If they aren’t staying then the immediate question should be- why aren’t they staying? What pages are they accessing before clicking away from the site?
If they are staying then there’s a number of ways to make sure that they keep coming back for more information, or perhaps even the possibility to expand on the information/sites to make them even more effective and useful.
As a side note about the advanced analysis tools- if you’re being found for things that you don’t do (ie. The user searches and finds you not what they want) then this should be sorted immediately. This is because one of the more under-handed ways to drive traffic is to tag your site with just about everything, it is considered a form of spamming and deliberately annoying users, and will not be looked upon too kindly.
Even if it is an honest mistake and you didn’t intend for it to happen- get it sorted as soon as you can. Otherwise you could lose traffic for nothing more than a simple typing error.
5.3 Gauging responses
If you’re receiving mostly negative responses, as in, the users are not staying or are not clicking through to the right pages immediately you need to find out why. This could be something as simple as a confusing layout. It could also be a problem or information or (as mentioned above) bad search terms.
The problem with using web analysis tools is that they’re mostly a quantitative form of analysis and they don’t let you know how users feel.
Therefore, if they’re landing on your home page and immediately clicking away- why? Is it the layout? Is it the content? Is this not what they’re searching for?
There are too many possible reasons for that to be of any help at all. Therefore, when (or if) you can- get some feedback from users as well.
In the positive light, well, if you’re getting a good number of visitors through and they are staying for a while- that’s great. But to become complacent would be folly as there are ways you can use this information to your advantage.
Where are they staying? What are they reading? What is on those pages?
If you have a particularly popular section of content that everyone seems to love reading, then add more! Give a reason for your users to come back as good content is new content.
Equally, as with the negative, if you get the opportunity to ask for direct feedback from your users then you should. This is a way to even ask what they would like to see, to expand the site and make it more useful.
5.4 Expanding through user reaction
With a steady flow of users and ones that stay for quite a while you’re probably in a good position to expand. Never be afraid to expand social media technology, mostly because at some point you will need to.
Sites like Facebook and Twitter change and incorporate new technology. This is what makes them so useful in the first place- they change, they evolve and they grow over time to become even better for their users. Even if you have no intention to manually change your site the sites themselves will eventually change.
Why would you want to expand? Well, there are a lot of good reasons to keep users coming back for more (and extended) content. If you are a retail business, for instance, and you have a lot of reviews about new products that people like- add links through in-built site technology to your online shop.
Don’t be afraid to add a feature or two as the sites are updated in real time and should you find it’s actually driving visitors away you can remove it. It’s not going to hurt to try using a few widgets, a few new ideas or even something completely radical.
Expansion is one of the fundamental aspects of all kinds of business and online that should be no different. This website, this social network, these clients- they are your network now. Provide for them as you would for the rest of your organisation and you will reap the rewards.
5.5 Statistical Analysis
To the right we can see a traffic and audience analysis. From this we can derive where our users are coming from (via Traffic Sources), and where in the world they have accessed our content (via Audience). This can be particularly useful if you’re targeting a particular area/country and you want to see if you’re reaching it. It can equally be useful to help you see which of your social media followers are viewing your content.
Below we can also find a visual representation of our visitors via a pageview graph. This gives a broad overview of months of statistical data and highlights key statistics: how many views you have had today, how many you had yesterday, how many last month and how many you have had in total over all the time the blog has been running.
These have a wide range of uses when it comes to analysing how effective content is and how many times it has been viewed, referred or accessed.
6.0 Designing e-Networking sites
Many of the social media sites that are commonly used by clients and organisations have some degree of customisation. Blogging services have a wider, more diverse and more creative range of customisation available to them.
In either case, customising your social media site is something you should start to do straight away- it has many benefits to your organisation.
6.2 Social media services
With social media services, such as Facebook and Twitter, there is a rather limited amount of customisability. This because they are designed to remain consistent and provide some individuality- but not enough that it starts to look like a different website.
With Twitter you can change the colours of the page, the background and provide some basic information about yourself. Profile pictures can also be uploaded, which, in this case, should be your company logo or something similar.
Facebook provides a little less customisation as each of the pages have to use the default colour scheme, layout and general features. However, it is possible to add widgets and extra boxes to your page via onsite applications. You can upload more information here and for corporate pages you can add an extensive list of addresses, working hours, industry details and other useful information. Profile pictures are more flexible here although it should still be your company logo or something similar.
6.3 Blogging services
Blogging services (such as Blogger and WordPress) are more extensive than social media sites and offer a great deal more customisation. This includes: changing colours, changing the layout and placement of objects, changing background images, adding useful widgets, externally hosted links and images, buttons, counters, polls, social media connections and much more.
There is a certain element of consistency here as they are designed to have a “main” area which incorporates the posts, and a “sidebar” area which incorporates everything else. You can have one sidebar, two or one on either side. It’s fully customisable and brings a great deal of utility to any organisation that is looking to share lots of information quickly.
With such a wide range of customisation options should you spend the time, and put in the effort, to get it looking great- it not only shows you’re interested and personable but you’re serious. Don’t choose just a standard template everyone uses; think about your organisation and think of the design you want.
6.4 General site design
Designing a website is quite a task and even more so when you haven’t got full control over the entire layout. Think from the point of view of your users- if this were you visiting this site- what would you like to see? Where would you expect information to be? Is it clean and tidy? Can you navigate easily? Are you cluttering the page or providing a lot of information efficiently?
One of the more complicated elements of site design is making sure it ends up understandable. This is particularly difficult with specialist organisations as they tend to use a lot of jargon, or technical language, which other users may not understand or pick up on initially.
If possible, let someone who is not part of that particular section of the organisation read and review it. If they can understand it then you’re most likely going to hook most users easily, however, should they find anything they don’t understand or face severe difficulties with the site- find out why. It’s important that once people start to find this site it is usable.
Most users have an incredibly good memory for things the dislike. If they have been to a site before and have been unable to use it/didn’t like it, they will probably remember the next time they see it.
You only get one chance to make a good impression- make sure it’s the right one.
Widgets are great and all; they provide us with a lot of information if used correctly and can add handy functionality- but too many ruin a layout and make it overly complicated. Keep the functionality and design of the widgets parallel: never add more than you need and never need more than you add.
Categories and the like is now a standard feature on blogging services and if you’re not using- them you should be! They provide a way for you to organise your blog and keep posts separate. But they also provide a certain amount of utility to users; if they want to find particular information it is but a click away.
It can also help to show the scope of your organisation to new users as they can click through and see a full list of what you do straight away. It’s in the sidebar so it’s not cluttering their screen, but it’s giving them a reason to stay and click through to even more pages.
In particular, this is good for organisations who work with a number of topics and with a great deal of information. But it is universally useful and due to being free- something you should be taking advantage of.
6.5 Corporate identity
You are but one of several thousand organisations on this particular social media network, therefore it’s important that your customers can find you.
This is not necessarily done by searching for names but logos, company colours and particular hallmarks of your brand help as well. Anything you can add (that doesn’t clutter the page and) that identifies you should be there- if your customers will recognise it and think of your organisation- add it!
What you need is for customers and users alike to find you and be able to instantly identify it is your organisation, a suitable user name and (where possible) verified status helps.
7.0 Suggested Websites
7.1 Specialist Networks