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Social Media - How it can help you!

What is social media? 

Wiki defines it as "the social interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks."  Maybe that still leaves you feeling a little lost.  They are websites where people publicly display their ideas, their activities, their interests, pictures, videos and recordings and anything else they feel like sharing.

Every one has heard of Facebook, but there are multitudes of other social media formats vying for your attention.  They all have their different formats and reasons for existing (though they all share the same goal: yours, someone's, anyone's money)  That's OK though, their gain is our gain.

Think Bumper Stickers only Awesome!

We have been participating in social media all along, we just weren't as keenly aware of it as we are now.  Just think bumper stickers on steroids.  Apart from paid advertising on these sites, you are basically getting people to advertise for you for free to everyone they even vaguely know.  Every time someone "likes" you on Facebook, their friends see that.  It is sort of like a personal stamp of approval. Sites like Merchant Circle allow people to leave reviews.  LinkedIn helps bring together employees and employers.  Twitter helps people keep up with news and events.  Here is an awesome diagram by Wiki depicting the different flavors of social media based on function.

Please, don't advertise FOR FREE for me!

Now if someone loves what you do and wants to carry a sign around with  him that can be good, but with that sign you have just lost control of how you are represented.  If that guy is standing on the corner and that sign is made with cardboard and markers, it might not be the image you had in mind for your brand!  By registering with the social networks and confirming your information, you are essentially giving them an approved sign for people to hold.  You should also be aware that you may be listed on these sites regardless of your participation as they are trying to have the most complete list as possible.  You will know this because you will see notifications like "claim this site" or "do you know this business?"  You should also be aware that consumers do not always understand that notifications like this mean that the business has not officially placed this information on the ad.  Most people are oblivious as to just how these sites work, even though they use them everyday.

So because you ARE going to be represented regardless of voluntary participation, you should go ahead and register so that you are represented accurately.  Basic listings are almost always free.

"Listen lady, we carve graphics into marble.  We don't do computer art, I don't care what you saw on the internet!"

Now there are several ways you can go about doing this.  There is the long way: one at a time register and fill out the forms, confirm the email, yada yada.  Search anything.  See what social networks come up.  Start with those.  Google for a list.  They are pretty easy to find and there are old standbys and brand new start ups.  Just start working your way down the list.  I recommend go for free!  I wouldn't pay for any of these until you understand what they do and how they work.

If you go about it the long way you will quickly see it is a time consuming, monotonous project.  There is a fast way.  There are many companies where you can purchase a centralized "dashboard" and make all your changes from one central location, and of course there are companies who will use this same dashboard, charge you more and do it for you so you don't have to learn a thing.

Currently MK does it the long way.  I am waiting to keep that expense down as long as I can.  Eventually I will move to a centralized dashboard when I have settled on which sites I feel deserve the most attention and when I decide which dashboard will give me the most value.  As of now, I feel it is more economical to DIY. 

So when you see Social Marketing included on MK websites, that is what it means.  I have gone site by site registering the company, making sure the information is accurate and linking it back to the website so customers get directed the right way and you will receive the URL, user name and password in a list with your website materials.

Now finally the question:  Why do I still need a website if I have social media?  The answer is simple.  While social media get the message out about your business, they do not allow you to control format, capture a brand concept, answer important questions and represent your company the way you choose.  By having a website to link back to, you ensure you get represented fully the way you want.  If you still have doubts, you should check out the article "Why Facebook Alone Isn't Enough" and "The Cost of Websites Vs. Other forms of Advertising".

In summary, social networking is the opportunity to leave generic business card on the desks and doors of people all over your community and the world. Registering with these networks makes sure the information on those business cards are correct.  Placing your web address on those cards is like a personal face-to-face handshake with your business.  With social networking being free, websites being extremely economical, especially in relation to the quality and quantity of advertising you are getting, its a no-brainer!
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