Thursday, 19 September 2013

Top 5 Social Networks to Boost Your Business

Social networks today are an inseparable part of our lives. Whether it's for socialization or commercial purposes, the reach of social networks is virtually limitless. They constitute one of the essential modern inbound marketing techniques used by businesses to increase web traffic and internet sales.

In this article, I'll outline some of the major social networking sites and how they can be most effectively leveraged by businesses big and small to drive traffic and sales through social media marketing.

The last few years have witnessed an explosion of social networking sites crop up online. Today, there are literally thousands of social networks each vying to cater to a different audience and/or provide differentiated services to members. However within the increasingly saturated pool of existing social networks, there are only a few dozen that have genuine mainstream commercial potential and can be utilized by businesses to significantly boost traffic and sales.

Below is a list of the top 5 social networks that can boost your business*:

1. Facebook

With globally 1 in 6 people having a Facebook account and with the network retaining the coveted 2nd place on Alexa's web traffic ranking, the opportunities to exploit business using Facebook are enormous. In fact, according to GlobalWebIndex, in Q1 of 2013, more than HALF of the world's online population used Facebook as a social media network compared to other platforms.

Launched in February 2004 by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg and a few roommates, Facebook has grown from a simple campus-only social network to become a global force to be reckoned with. On May 18, 2012, Facebook went public and raised over $5 billion on the NASDAQ - with the company being valued at a whopping $100 billion.

The primary reason most businesses seek to market on Facebook is simply due to sheer size. With over a billion active users on the network, companies have easy access to all kinds of segments and audiences with which to tailor messages. Apart from its enormous internet traffic, Facebook is also desirable because of its heavy mobile phone/tab compatibility (making it a perfect tie-in to a company's mobile marketing efforts), its great for contests and special events/offers and is also a great platform by which users can directly interact with companies through fan pages, groups and private messages.

However, in spite of Facebook's scale and scope, not all businesses have found it to be a 'business-friendly' environment.There's the network's sub-optimal advertising platform, its limited call-to-action ability and of course, privacy concerns lodged by users against some large companies over data mining and surveillance claims.

2. Twitter

Founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, the micro-blogging site has introduced the words 'tweet' and 'hashtag' into the mainstream vocabulary. Today it has over 500 million registered users posting more than 340 million tweets daily. The service also handles around 1.6 billion daily search queries. Currently, Twitter ranks as #8 in Alexa's latest web traffic ranking.

What makes Twitter attractive for online businesses is the ability for companies to brand themselves and their products through short, SMS-style messages. Usually, messages contain links to other sites, whether it's the company's website, Facebook profile or to third-party destinations. Additionally, constantly updating a company's tweets with interesting and relevant content has the advantage of creating greater loyalty and affection between a company and potential leads/customers. Unlike Facebook, Twitter is more effective when it comes to broadcasting real-time news and updates - as users deem Twitter feeds to be more credible than Facebook posts for a number of reasons. Another benefit of marketing through Twitter is the ability to gain 'followers' that are actually interested in the company's line of business or products.

The greatest limitation (and point of differentiation) of using Twitter is the 140-character message limit. Regardless, of whether you're posting text, images, audio, video or links, there's no scope to exceed the SMS-style message system. Another issue is that the scope of interaction is much more restricting than Facebook or Google + - primarily centering around text-based private messages between users.

3. Google Plus

Dubbed as Google's appointed heir to Orkut, Google + (also Google Plus) is becoming an increasingly hard to ignore contender when it comes to challenging Facebook's undisputed dominance. In January 2013, Google + surpassed Twitter to become the world's 2nd largest social network. By May of this year, the site had over 500 million registered users. Unlike all the other social networks, Google + is fully compatible with other websites within Google's umbrella - including Google's flagship product, Google Search, the world's most popular video sharing site YouTube, the world's most popular email system Gmail, Google Store, Google AdWords, Google Maps and not to mention

As already mentioned, the single biggest advantage of using Google + is it's seamless integration with other Google services and sites. Another specialized benefit is Google's Personalized Search which enables targeted advertising methods, navigation services using Google's location-based search services. Then of course, there's the prospect of seeing your search engine rankings rise if you happen to have an account - which helps Google's SERP to get your site crawled quicker.

At the moment, the main issue with Google + seems to ironically be its sophistication. With all of it's integrated Google services, it can get quite overwhelming especially right after setting up a new account. Another drawback is the fact that in terms of active users, Google + still lags behind both Facebook and Twitter on that department.

4. Pinterest

Pinterest is a photo-sharing social bookmarking website unique for its 'pinboard-style' interface enabling users to create and manage theme-based image collections including interests, hobbies and events. The site was founded by Ben Sibermann and a few others and initially launched as a closed beta in March 2010. In February 2013, ComScore and Reuters reported that Pinterest had a global user base of just under 49 million.

What makes Pinterest stand out from all the others on this list is its specific attention to social shopping and brand association. Unlike some other sites, Pinterest allows businesses to specifically create pages aimed at promoting their businesses online. Acting as a sort of virtual shopping window, users can browse through a company's portfolio of products without ever having to visit any store or the company's website. Business pages can even be setup to show prices and calls to action. In 2013, the site added a new tool 'Rich Pins' - which enhance customer experience when browsing through company made pins. In a popular study, it was shown that for a fashion website, Pinterest users spent $180 as compared with $85 for Facebook users (more than double). Users active on Pinterest have also been shown to be at a more advanced stage of buyer-readiness than compared to other social networking users.

In terms of drawbacks, Pinterest still today remains limited to more tangible and visually-appealing products and brands. The most categories within the site include home decor, fashion, art, travel and sports. Many businesses (particularly service-based ones) are wary of Pinterest or are unfamiliar with the techniques used within the network.

5. LinkedIn

This Silicon-Valley product was launched in May 2003 by visionary Reid Hoffman along with some founding team members of PayPal and (an earlier social network) as a social network meant to be a hub for professionals to discuss and interact. As of June 2013, the website boasts more than 225 million acquired users globally. Quantcast in July of the same year reported LinkedIn having just under 66 million monthly unique US users and over 178 million globally. Earlier in January 2011, the website filed for an IPO under the NYSE pricing shares at $45.

What differentiates LinkedIn from other social networks is its professional focus. The site allows companies to build professional profiles and networks relevant to their line of business. Using widgets, members can also promote their Twitter streams, Facebook posts and blog entries related to their business. The site also allows users to develop sales leads and business partners. Users can use their company pages that allow for the promotion of products as well as to also serve as a means of interaction with potential leads. Another advantage is that LinkedIn allows members to directly advertise within the site to increase both site traffic and online sales - which can be tailored to filter specific preferences. It's also a great way to recruit potential candidates for jobs in place of traditional job portals - although that's a discussion for another day.

The major con of using LinkedIn for social media marketing is that the site is geared more as a platform for professional development and recruitment and less as a portal for retailing and e-commerce. Users are more interested in 'selling themselves' instead of buying any good or service. An additional limitation is that, in contrast to other social networks, the site doesn't get's very limited use per average user on a daily basis.


Because the medium's cheap, convenient, instantaneous and is easy to reach target segments, social networking sites will continue to receive increasing attention and investment by companies. Social media marketing helps to both spread positive word of mouth, elevate your company's website on the major search engines, increase traffic to your websites and blogs as well as also helping to raise online sales.

Today, it forms one of the core methods by which companies can pursue their inbound marketing strategies. For more information on the wonders of inbound marketing, check out our article here.

We are entering a brave new world where social media is no longer reserved to simply communicate with friends and family. It is now a very serious business matter indeed. It's high time that you/your business start reaping the enormous potential returns that social media can generate for you - all you need is a little push in the right direction.

*Disclaimer: For the purposes of preparing this list, I have ignored both content-generation social networks like Flikr, Instagram, Vimeo and YouTube as well as Chinese-exclusive social networks available only in East Asia (like the wildly popular Renren or Weibo)

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