Doesn't anybody "like" me?
Depending on the social network, there are different names for the members of your online community. Facebook has "friends", Twitter has "followers", LinkedIn has contacts. Whatever the name, it's hard to not define your business success by the number of people who have shown their interest in your network. That mentality needs to be put to rest almost instantaneously. There may be companies out there who have literally thousands more followers than your business page has. There may be organizations holding daily contests just to build their fan base. While this can seem, at first, to be a very good thing, it may turn out to be nothing more than an ego boost instead of a business boost. When it comes to any social network following, the quality of those friends is much more important than the quantity. Are the people who have "liked" your business page or decided to follow your tweets likely to patronize your business in the future? Or are they there simply to get some free stuff? Since any new "friend" could be a potential customer, it's important to establish a good relationship with each and every one of your business followers. This is difficult - maybe even impossible - to do with an excessively large fan base.
So how does one go about relationship building in cyber-space? It's not as difficult as you might think. Treat your networking friends the same way you'd treat a real friend. First, figure out what brought them to your page. What are they looking for? A recent study posted by eMarketer, can give some great insight as to what many people are expecting when they join a social network:
There was a broad spectrum of reasons people chose to follow a specific brand or company's social network page, and they varied quite a bit depending upon the customer's income. For example, those respondents making over $500,000 stated their love for the brand as the primary reason for clicking that "like" button, whereas those making under $200,000 primarily joined a network to get deals and discounts. Word of mouth also played a large part in the respondents' choice to follow a brand, with a good percentage joining because one of their online "friends" did first. So, play around. Figure out why your followers are there and then build on that. Since not all of your followers are probably from the same demographic, it doesn't hurt to blend some or all of the above ideas.
Also, listen. If a friend called you on the phone with a problem, you most likely would give them a very quick answer. Do the same with your network friends. When they post a question or problem on your wall, answer as quickly as possible. Be pleasant. Make each follower feel like you're there for them, and they'll want to stick around.
Overloaded = Underwhelmed
An important thing to remember when posting or tweeting information to your followers is that once something is posted, it will take the importance away from the previous post. Space out your posts enough as to not completely overload your followers home pages. Let them have time to think about the previous post and to comment on it if necessary. There is a fine line between keeping your name out there and being totally annoying.
Timing is another important thing to keep in mind. Many companies are now aware that the majority of their employees are involved with at least one social network. Because of this, some have enacted rules regarding the use of personal websites on company time. With this knowledge, you may find it more effective to post after normal business hours. In fact, a recent study showed 20% higher rates of engagement on posts that showed up later in the evening. Experiment!
Email newsletters are a perfect venue in which to announce your business foray into social networking. Each networking site - be it Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or MySpace - have "buttons" that can easily be added to any email blast. Notifying your customers via email and providing a clickable route to your social home makes it easy for them to join your network. On the flip side, social networking sites are also a great way to give your customers access to your newsletters. Call it "one-stop shopping". They can read the newsletter without taking the extra step of opening their email account. Just post a link right to the networking site.
There has never been such an efficient way to reach out to customers as there is with email marketing and social networking. A business can effectively reach out to potential customers wherever that customer may be - at home, at work, and now with the growing popularity of smart phones and mobile devices, you can literally be in your customers' pockets twenty-four hours a day. Take advantage!