Once upon a time, there was a hard and loudly enforced social rule on the internet: there were places to hang out and places to shop, and never the twain should meet. Anyone who dared break this rule suffered the wrath of the collective cyberworld, and the results weren’t always pretty.
This rule was strongly agreed upon and enforced by any means necessary until about five years ago. It’s difficult to say exactly what happened to cause this shift. Likely, it was a combination of a number of factors. For one, there was a general sense that web site users were getting a bit of a free ride and that the money for web site owners to pay their bills had to come from somewhere. Also, whereas businesses who wanted to find new customers before had to resort to reviled options such as direct email solicitation (forever etched in our vocabulary now as “spamming”), now alternate means exist, mostly through non-intrusive means found on social networking web sites.
Jump on in! But do it right.
This means that those who are in new or growing businesses who want to use social media web sites to increase their customer base no longer have to worry about the blowback from treading in forbidden waters. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still certain rules that apply. It also doesn’t mean that it’s just as simple as slapping down an ad and forgetting about it.
If you’re a business who wants to expand into the social networking world, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1) Work with the site, and the users
Since large social networking sites need your money to keep going, they’ll be in the best position to tell you what the lay of the land is like: they’re not going to want to see you set up shop just to get chased out of town for not following some social code you didn’t know of until you broke it.
Also, listen to user feedback. While there will always be some trigger-happy users who find spam everywhere they look, generally you’ll get a good idea of what’s fair and what’s not from user reactions. And if you actually asked, you’d be in such a rare category that you’d automatically earn a certain level of respect.
2) Follow the cool kids
Yesterday it was MySpace. The day before that it was LiveJournal. Today it’s FaceBook, but there are already signs that it might have peaked. Tomorrow it will be someone else, possibly FourSquare, or likely Google Plus. The “hot spot” changes at lighting pace. You need to move just as fast.
3) The toys change too
In addition to new places on the web, you will need to keep track of new ways to access the web. PCs aren’t exactly dying as much you might hear, but iToys are going to become more and more frequent. These new technologies more and more often include in their embedded software ways for businesses to interact with customers without having to go through a web browser.
One last bit of advice: hire an IT guru. Or if IT is your specialty, hire a marketer or secretary. The point is that just keeping up with how your business does Ecommerce is enough to keep one person busy for well more than 40 hours a week. You’re going to want to make sure that you have someone who can focus on that, and only that. Social networking is no longer a no-business-class zone. They can and do now coexist. You just have to devote the resources necessary to do it right.