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An introduction to social media marketing

Do you know your Twitter from your Blogger? Your Facebook from your LinkedIn? You may have heard a lot about these ‘social networking' technologies recently. Here, we tell you what they are and how they can help you to market your business.

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Do you know your Twitter from your Blogger? Your Facebook from your LinkedIn? You may have heard a lot about these 'social networking' technologies recently. Here, we tell you what they are and how they can help you to market your business. Social media is term that is used to describe the use of online technologies to share and collaborate on web content. As more and more people start to socialise and manage their interests online, these technologies can be powerful tools to build business communities and promote your business to current and prospective customers. Social news and bookmark websites Sites such as del.icio.us, Digg, Reddit and StumbleUpon allow users to upload, tag, share and vote on interesting articles, videos, guides, statistics or other content on the web and have the power to direct thousands of visitors to the websites with the most popular articles. To make social news sites work for you, it is not enough to submit your own site to one and hope for the best. You have to make contacts by commenting on articles, voting and submitting articles by others. Once you have established yourself as an active member of the online community, you can start to submit carefully chosen content of your own, or your contacts might do it for you. Encourage your website visitors to share your web content on their favourite news or bookmark websites by including social media links (like those at the top of this article) on your website. See AddThis.com to find out how to add links for all the main social media sites. Social networking You may be familiar with social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace that allow you to share information with family and friends, but these may not be suitable for business purposes. Sites such as LinkedIn may be more appropriate for networking in the business community. It allows you to establish and maintain business contacts, set up groups and search for potential candidates. Wikis Wikis are websites that allow users to create, edit and share information. Wikipedia, the online collaborative encyclopaedia, is perhaps the most famous wiki and many businesses have an entry on there. Blogs and micro-blogs A blog (short for 'web log') allows you to publish the latest news about your business, or tips and opinions on your area of business. Blogging sites such as Blogger and Wordpress are easy to set up and can easily be integrated into your website. Visitors can comment on your blog and subscribe to updates via a feed, so that they can be updated whenever your blog is. Micro-blogging, as the name suggests, involves much shorter entries and has recently taken the world by storm in the form of Twitter. Again, you have to build a network of 'followers', which can usually be done by following and commenting on other 'tweets' or entries. Here, you are limited to only 140 characters to get your point across, but you can grab the interest of followers by writing snappy headline-style entries accompanied by a link to more content on your website. (Tip: To shortern your links, you can use a site like TinyURL.com) Forums An active forum or message board can give your customers the opportunity to communicate with each other and with you. These need to be well moderated and you will need to start discussions to encourage participation among your customers, but can be a great tool to learn more about your customers and gain their trust. Audio, video and more… Sometimes you might want to share more than the written word, so social media allows you to publish audio or video content from speeches, presentations and demonstrations online via podcasting (for audio) or a video sharing website such as YouTube. Always make sure that any audio or video content refers back to more content on your website. Used wisely, social media can result in increased numbers of visitors to your website and links to your website can improve that all important search engine ranking. Some technologies may not be suitable for your type of business, so choose a combination that is best for you and that your target audience are most likely to use. Social media marketing requires some hard work to build contacts and networks, but it is also an effective way of promoting your business and supporting any existing marketing activities at no extra cost.

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