More than once, I’ve had a new client come to me and say that she wants to be on “all the social networking sites.”
When I dig a little deeper and ask for details, that almost certainly means that the client wants her business to have a presence on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. But the why of the matter is a little harder. Basically they believe that since potential customers are on the big three social networking sites (possibly soon to be the big four with Google+), businesses had better be there, too. The fact of the matter is that there are some major differences between the three sites. Audiences vary widely, and the methods of connection vary, too. Which one (or ones) your business should be active in depends on a few factors.
Facebook, as a platform, has many benefits. It is built to allow multiple types of communication and interaction, from sharing messages to posting photos. With its specialized markup language, it is possible for a business to create a Facebook Page that gathers leads, offers up free ebooks and more.
Facebook users cover a broad range of demographics. In a recent report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, it was reported that 92 percent of social networking site users in the U.S. are on Facebook. There is certainly an overlap between Facebook’s users and people active on other social networking sites, but at the same time, Facebook offers businesses access to the broadest swath of people online.
But there is a drawback for many businesses that might otherwise benefit from Facebook: many users aren’t actively looking to buy. They visit the site to communicate with friends and acquaintances, and not to look for purchasing opportunities. This certainly isn’t an insurmountable problem, but the businesses that are successful finding leads through Facebook are likely to fall more into the business-to-consumer category.
Where you might visit Facebook to connect with friends and just happen to add some business connections into the mix, LinkedIn is built with business in mind. Because of the nature of networks, many LinkedIn users will look at their own connections as a source for vendors. It’s a great place to make connections with customers, especially if you are selling specifically to businesses. The site also offers an incredible number of opportunities to build up your expertise and share information; the result can be establishing yourself and your company's expertise quickly and with people that are regularly looking for experts with whom they can work.
Compared to the other two social networking platforms that have gotten big, Twitter is a very different opportunity. Twitter, by its nature, is extremely fast. You can post only 140 characters to the site in a given message and there aren’t a lot of other features you can interact with (unlike the wide variety of features on both Facebook and LinkedIn). But those constraints are actually what makes Twitter such a valuable opportunity for businesses looking to connect with potential customers.
The site makes it easy to post messages, whether it’s a response to someone else’s comment or a general broadcast. If you’re willing to take the time to build up a following, you will have easy access to an audience that is more likely to act than those in your e-mail list. You can also easily connect with people who aren’t already in your network, through tactics like searching for users that mention specific keywords. And unlike Facebook, there are plenty of Twitter users who use the social networking site to search for products and services, making it an easier opportunity for businesses selling to other businesses. However, it’s important to note that it’s still a relatively small site, estimated to have around 200 million users worldwide, and there are many industries that have not enthusiastically adopted it as a method to connect. Depending on your business, you may find that your target market is connecting elsewhere.
Where does your business need to be?
First and foremost: Where is your audience? That’s where you want to be. That means searching for people that fall into your customer base on each site, as well as surveying the customers you’ve already got about where they’re spending their time. Unless you have both the time and money required to build a great online presence on all three sites, it’s worth prioritizing your efforts. Starting with just one platform is a perfectly reasonable choice for most organizations.