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Social Networks Boost Marketing

Social networks like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter are the rage with techno-savvy young adults – but they are also the best new marketing tools for small businesses. Across the African continent and Diaspora, entrepreneurs are leveraging these networks to increase revenue and market share.

Social networking sites including Hi5, Friendster and Bebo are growing three times as fast as other facets of the Internet.

The addition of text messages on networking sites like Twitter makes them even more accessible. Now, anyone who has a cell phone can receive information from their network – including information on the latest products available.

“Clients read text messages within minutes – and they can reach millions of viewers instantly,” says Pieter de Villiers, CEO of Clickatell, a company specializing in text marketing. “Research shows that mobile text is surpassing voice as the preferred way to communicate — it’s quick, easy, and direct. As social sites continue experiencing phenomenal growth — they are introducing mobile advertising and location-aware services.”

Newer mobile networks such as Brightkite, Mig33 and Mobiluck, which rely on texting, are expanding rapidly. Text messages are opened immediately, and viewed by billions of people daily. Yet, they cost very little for anyone with internet access – just a few minutes per day of time.

According to Reuters, text messaging is the fastest growing communication method in social networking, across Africa and the world.

Low Cost

The social networks have one tremendous advantage over other marketing systems – they are free or very low cost. Accounts on all the major networking sites are free. They create a level playing field, where the smallest company in Nigeria can successfully compete with the largest international corporations.

Companies like Clickatell offer a cost-effective way to contact millions of customers on their cell phones.

Target Markets

Although social networking sites are most popular with young adults age 12 to 30, they are used by billions of people of all ages – from schoolchildren to great-grandmothers. Different marketing strategies appeal to separate demographic groups on the sites. Many business owners use separate strategies on Twitter or Myspace to appeal to different groups of customers. They even create different accounts to promote products to different age groups.

Localized

The newest technology permits businesses to target customers who are nearby. “A restaurant can send text messages offering a free beverage to customers as they pass the store,” through Brightkite, de Villiers notes. “Chances are customers will stop in and purchase other items as well. They might also text or phone friends, further extending the network.”

Goal

Often the goal of social network marketing is to drive traffic to the company website. From the site, customers can order products or contact you directly. For some businesses such as building supplies or legal services, it is unlikely that sales will be made through this medium — but they will increase brand recognition and top-of-mind awareness.

Tracking

As with any marketing strategy, tracking is essential to determine the success or failure. Gathering information on how customers learned about the product is essential, so that the business owner can repeat successful strategies and gauge the success of new techniques.

Repeat Business

Social networks boost repeat business because they keep customers in contact with the company. Encourage customers to become your friends on Myspace or to follow you on Twitter.

Tips

As a new technology, social networking is constantly evolving – and so are the marketing techniques. While there are certain guidelines for success, they will continue to evolve over time.

Socialize

Most people join social networking sites to stay in touch with their old friends, and to make new contacts. Participate in the community by adding an interesting insight or comment. When an entrepreneur posts nothing but advertisements for the product, it can annoy customers.

Build Relationships

For best results, aim to build relationships with members of the community, much as you would in person. Once customers feel they have a connection with an entrepreneur, they are much more responsive to messages that include special offers or products for sale – or links to those products.

Spread the News

Instead of sending obvious advertisements to customers, use the networking sites to report new developments like an improved product, a special price or the availability of a scarce item.

Add a Link

Always include a link in messages, so customers can find your site when they are ready to buy.

Using these key strategies will ensure that your social networking efforts are effective.

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