news / tech talk

Social Networks

by Lee LeClair
As seen in Inside Tucson Business

Recently, Internet business has taken an interesting turn as many businesses try to integrate Internet social networks into their online presence. Social networks are mostly centered on sites that promote loose (or not so loose) network-based mingling of individuals with common pasts, interests, hobbies, careers, etc. They are a form of online community but do not revolve around a blog or other static site like some early online communities. Examples of personal sites include Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter while LinkedIn is the epitome of business relationship management. Others organize around religion or ethnicity.

Most social networks provide registrants with an easy way to find each other or like-minded folks and provide a simple interface to help them keep up with what their friends and acquaintances are up to. They almost always provide a quick and simple way to update short posts about what they are doing as well. One of the fastest growing, Facebook provides lots of small applications to interact in playful ways as well as join groups, fanclubs, and causes that are then published to everyone deemed a friend. Most social network sites have expanded to include client applications for mobile phones so people can stay hyper-connected to the net and to each other’s days however mundane. In an age of near constant mobility, they form a way for people to stay at least marginally connected as they separate and move on from their family, high school, college, and jobs.

How does all this relate to business? Besides the obvious online advertising aspect, businesses may be able to capitalize on the social nature of these networks to promote their products or services. People are most often swayed by the recommendations of people they know; word-of-mouth. Your business can be present and have a following of customers or “fans” of your product or service, then a group can form around it and be updated through updates, news, and event postings about your company, products, or services. Anyone who becomes a fan or joins a group creates a rippling announcement to all their friends that they’ve joined a group. Or they might post something (hopefully positive) about a business product, service, or whatever which also ripples through the social network of people they know. This is significantly different than head-on, one-way advertisement because 1) it is a simple, informative and short post and 2) comes from someone you know, however tenuously, not a company or vendor. It makes a big difference.

Who has used these networks to successfully get their message out? Probably the most high profile has to be the site. Whatever your politics, it is difficult to argue with the smooth incorporation of social networks, video and image sites, and even texting to get out a message with the aptly named “Obama Everywhere”. The widespread messaging to multiple social networks provided (and still does) both distributed mini-portals and drivers to a core site where sales in the form of donations and support can be made. So consider how your business uses the Internet and then consider how it might be improved by reaching out through popular social networking sites. Also, keep in mind that unlike the one-way transmit of advertising, social networking is a double edged sword. If people dislike a business or product, that word will get out too. After all, it’s just people talking.

Lee Le Clair is the CTO at Ephibian. His Tech Talk column appears the third week of each month in Inside Tucson Business