Social networking sites and services such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have followed the same path to the business world that blogs did only a couple years ago: They're all online hangouts that evolved into sophisticated branding, lead generation and sales tools for business. And with the right approach, they are an ideal way to quickly--and cheaply--promote your startup:
Facebook offers several applications and advertising solutions for promoting your website, products and services. For example, you can create a free group based on any topic and invite customers and Facebook members to join. Group content, which is usually created by Facebook members, lacks hard-core marketing messages and makes a strong soft-sell tool.
Creating a Facebook page for your company means you can share information about your business with Facebook's 220 million members. As they interact with your page, stories linking to your profile are shared with their friends--so news about your business can go viral.
You can also pay for premium advertising, which allows you to target those who are the best match for your brand. For information about paid advertising and other business solutions (many are still free), click the advertising link at the bottom of any Facebook page.
I recommend starting with a Facebook page that can function as your home base, then expanding from there.
On Twitter, instant messaging meets social networking as members share what they're doing right now. Each post or "tweet" is limited to 140 characters, and can be done via computer, cell phone or desktop app like Seesmic.
Tweets have a short shelf life, so don't expect them to drive substantial sales or replace a website or blog. Twitter is better for company announcements, spotting trends, conducting polls and posting on new products, services and in-the-moment specials. Visit Twitter.com to get started, and remember to include strong calls to action in your tweets.
LinkedIn provides a more traditional platform for business networking and is more useful for business-to-business relationships and harvesting talent. You can create a company profile to use as a research tool that helps other LinkedIn users "find the right companies to work for and do business with." Are you Socially Acceptable?
Most social networks enable you to integrate your website or blog, to some degree, with the network. On Facebook, for example, you can use the "connect" feature (on the advertising page) to connect your startupís site to a memberís Facebook account.
For LinkedIn, you can add a button to your website or blog that will let visitors click to your profile. Just go to LinkedIn, click Edit My Profile, then Edit Public Profile Settings. Under Public Profile, click Customized button to access HTML code to put into your website or blog.
To link to Twitter, simply add a Twitter button to your site that links to your Twitter URL. Google "twitter button" to find a good selection.
Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging.