How Small Business Owners Can Use Social Networking to Promote Their Business

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Small business owners typically rely on traditional means to advertise their businesses and services. These means typically include direct mail, local newspapers, fliers, radio, signage, and trade shows. With the age of the Internet we have seen the addition of websites and email marketing added to the weapons the small business owner may use. For example, Fishbowl Marketing is a promotion-based email firm in the restaurant industry. It combines restaurant and email expertise to develop email promotion programs for independent restaurant owners. Small business owners who are members of Chambers of Commerce or industry trade association such as the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOMCVB) may advertise their businesses on the organization website or send mass emailing to fellow members.

Currently if a small business owner wanted to develop business relationships he or she could go to a networking session or business card exchange conducted by a local business trade association such as a Chamber of Commerce. A new way of networking has arrived. Social media or network services such as Facebook, Twitter, and other websites have impacted how millions of Americans especially those under 35 interact or network with one another, shop and view brands (Swartz, August 28, 2009).

Businesses are spending money in social media at a faster rate than any other form of online marketing. Studies by Forrester Research show that spending on social networking will increase from $455 million in 2008 to $3.1 billion in 2014, a 335 percent increase. In contrast, spending on email marketing will grow from $1.2 billion in 2009 to 2.1 billion in 2014 (Horovitz, July 24, 2009). In addition, some 25 percent of small businesses surveyed by Adology Research said they would spend more on social networking in 2009 (Horovitz, July 24, 2009).

Interest in and the use of social networking by businesses large and small reflects the growing importance of the use of this medium. This paper illustrates how small business owners can use social networking to market their businesses. Advantages and disadvantages of two social networking tools, Facebook and LinkedIn are discussed. Guidelines for using these tools are presented.

SOCIAL NETWORKING

Social networking is the grouping of individuals into specific groups, like small rural communities or a neighborhood subdivision. Although social networking is possible in person, especially in the workplace, universities and high schools, it is most popular online. This is because like most high schools, colleges, or workplaces, the Internet is filled with millions of individuals who are looking to meet other people, to gather and share first-hand information and experiences about any number of topics from golfing and gardening to developing friendships and professional alliances (whatissocialnetworking.com, 2009).

Social networking online started as a way for friends within a school to stay connected with each other online as opposed to using a telephone or in person. The individual can decorate his or her own personal page with virtual trinkets and photos, thus expressing one's own identity or personality. Within this virtual world, they can share information, experiences, pictures, videos, and purchasing preferences including recommendations of a vendor's products or services. These recommendations have led the business community to take notice of online social networking and the power that virtual word-of-mouth advertising has on the sale of their products and services. Two sites in particular, Facebook and LinkedIn, have become particularly important in the exposure of small businesses and the wares they offer.

Facebook was founded in February 2004 and is a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers. The company develops technologies that facilitate the sharing of information through the social graph, the digital mapping of people's real-world social connections (Facebook's company website, 2009). …