11:18am Thursday 16th July 2009
By Andrew Smith
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, the growth of social media sites has been nothing short of phenomenal in the last two years. The fact they are now called ‘social media,’ rather than networking sites, represents a significant shift from somewhere where you can chat to friends, colleagues and family online, to what is being perceived as a useful business tool.
But how do you make the most of these sites and can they really generate business?
According to a survey by Oxford-based SEOptimise, 40 per cent of businesses are now using these channels to boost their brand and drive people to their website, while a similar number are using social media to build and manage relationships.
Stuart Tofts, managing director of the firm which specialises in search engine optimisation, said: “Computer firm Dell claimed recently that it has made about £2m out of an article published on Twitter.
“Twitter is basically micro-blogging, reporting bits of news about what is going on.
“Another thing it is used for is to communicate with customers. For example, cheapflights.co.uk will use it to send information about flights by coming in on a conversation where people may be discussing the subject.
“Then there is customer service. A company may hear something negative being said about it and react to it.
“It’s also instant. When the ‘plane crashed into the Hudson River in New York, the first report was on Twitter.”
The Twitter phenomenon has been staggering. In February 2008 it had an audience of 475,000. A year later it had soared to seven million.
Facebook has also witnessed huge growth in a short space of time and companies are being increasingly innovative in their use of the site.
For example, travel website TripAdvisor used its Facebook page to allow people to upload pictures of countries they have visited around the world.
A more defined business networking site is LinkedIn which gives users updates on people you are connected to and allows specific business questions to be asked.
Kevin Gibbons of SEOptimise said: “It is very popular with recruitment agencies looking for particular people to fill a particular job.”
The problem is that this technology is evolving so quickly that it is difficult to take a long-term view. What is effective now is not necessarily going to be so in a year’s time.
In the SEOptimise survey, Facebook and Twitter, closely followed by business networking site LinkedIn, were voted as the social media sites mostly likely to still be around in 2020. None of the voters expected MySpace to survive the next decade.
But undeniably, the power of social media is growing, whatever the future may hold.
Mr Gibbons said: “It is about building reputation and brand awareness — it is not something for a big sales drive.
“It allows businesses to make a difference at a low cost. Social media and public relations will become very integrated with information and links pushed out to blogs, such as national newspapers.”
CASE STUDY: Audley Travel (www.audleytravel.com) Witney-based Audley Travel specialises in tailor-made individual itineraries for travellers seeking a trip with a difference.
With the specialist travel industry becoming more competitive, Audley wanted to ensure it had a prominent position online and increase the number of visitors to its website.
One of the key successes was using social media sites such as StumbleUpon.
The recent ITV series, Billy Connolly: Journey to the Edge of the World, was used to target traffic from social media audiences.
Content about the TV series was added to Audley’s website, including an itinerary travellers could follow featuring some of the highlights of the comedian’s journey through Canada's Northwest Passage.
Through the StumbleUpon website about 50 influential people interested in travel were invited to view the link to Audley Travel’s Billy Connolly web page. Ratings of the web page grew steadily as people recommended it to their contacts.
As a result, Audley Travel’s website was visited 790 times just through StumbleUpon.
Combined, the social media and search campaign generated several thousand visits directly to this single piece of content, and the number of visitors to the website increased by 196 per cent.
Loic Robertson, e-commerce manager at Audley said: “Using StumbleUpon to highlight topical content maximised the online ‘buzz’ about our company and attracted attention and links from bloggers, leading to top Google rankings for our website.”
CASE STUDY: Pearn Kandola (www.pearnkandola.com) Oxford-based business psychology firm Pearn Kandola has been using a range of social media including blogging, microblogging and ‘social media bookmarking’ to reach online audiences and boost its consultants’ profiles.
This has included promoting content on the company’s website such as the ‘Apprentice Analysed’ blog.
Here company founder Binna Kandola reviewed the psychology of candidates from the BBC TV show, and predicted who was most likely to get hired by Alan Sugar at the end of the series.
Binna Kandola correctly predicted that Yasmina Siadatan would defeat Kate Walsh in the TV final, after just three episodes of the show.
Mike Idziaszczyk at Pearn Kandola said: “Although many of our employees are keen blog writers and Facebook members, as a business Pearn Kandola has not used social media in any co-ordinated manner to promote itself on the Internet.
“The challenge for us is to understand which social media are most effective in communicating with our target market and which are not.”
o Contact: SEOptimise: 0845 2990818.
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