Your business needs to participate in social media.

I was recently giving a presentation on Internet marketing basics in New York City. During the class a conversation arose regarding whether or not a business must take part in social media. That is, whether the business should have a Facebook page, Twitter account, LinkedIn page, Google Plus page, and etc.

I said “absolutely”, but with some caveats, which I will get to in a moment.

As a preliminary matter, I think it should go without saying today that almost every business should have an online presence. To my mind, that should include a website (in most instances), along with claiming business listings on online business directories, both horizontal and vertical. At least in that way people who know of you and people who do not know of you, but who are searching for the services that you provide, can find you online. And let’s face it, every single statistic out there shows that people increasingly turn online to find out information about local businesses.

The social media question comes up in the context of how developed your online presence should be. I think that many people expect businesses to have not just a website, but also a presence on the mainstream social media outlets indicated above. Each social media outlet is a little bit quirky and caters to a particular audience. Be that as it may, websites or services (hard to tell which they are) like Facebook and Twitter offer an opportunity to engage your target audience using the appropriate language of that service. And again, I think people expect businesses to be engaging on the services. (And it should be said that some target audiences may exist online substantially inside a social media service. If that’s the case for your business, then of course you had better have an active account on that service.)

This is where the caveats come into play. While I think you need to have a presence on the various mainstream social media outlets, you have to make sure that they do not appear to be a ghost town. If you simply create an account and proceed to ignore it, you are sending a message that you are not really interested in engaging in a conversation with your prospective or actual clientele on those websites. Ultimately you will drive people away not only from your presence on the social service, but also potentially from your own website and even business. Having a social presence dictates managing that social presence. Either you or someone you hire needs to make sure that at the very least, you are monitoring and responding to communications directed your way on the social websites. What you should be doing to is creating content that you are distributing socially in the appropriate language of the service.

Importantly, search engines pay attention to whether you are engaging socially. So it is hard to say the you should simply ignore websites like Facebook and Twitter when they can potentially play an important role in sending visitors to your website. Granted, the social media landscape is not necessarily one that any small business has asked for. But it’s there, and simply cannot be ignored. On the positive side, there are many tools available that automate the process of monitoring communications to you or about you, as well as generating content for social media websites. And of course many companies provide that service as well. Many businesses simply accept social engagement as a cost of doing business and hire someone to take care of that component of the business while the business owner focuses on the substance of the business itself. (Of course, in hiring someone, you need to be very careful that that person or service is capable of conveying messages in your voice. But that should be the subject of another blog post.)

Bottom line? You need to have a reasonably active presence on relevant social media websites to enhance your online presence.

Photo credit: The Fête champêtre, Dirck Hals, 1627

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