Originally commissioned by the Better Organic Business Links Project, the content below is freely available from the Organic Centre Wales and is designed particularly to help businesses in the organic sector in Wales get to grips with social media tools.
Baffled by all the different platforms?
by Juliet Fay
This document aims to give a brief overview of the most popular social media tools to help you decide which to research further. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus are covered.
What is Twitter?
At one level, Twitter is a mini-blog where you create posts or ‘tweets’ in 140 characters or less. Many people use it to chat about their daily lives and interact with others that interest them. However businesses are finding it a great tool for engaging with customers, the media and keeping up with industry news and their competition. It can be a great campaigning tool e.g. campaigns against spending cuts.
Who is using Twitter?
Twitter is popular with bloggers and media types so can be a great way to generate PR opportunities by making connections with influential writers. Twitter is used for both business to consumer (B2C) and business to business (B2B) interaction. The key question, as always, is whether your target audience is using this tool.
How do I sign up?
Go to Twitter.com and sign up. It will only take a couple of minutes and it’s free.
What's the difference between Twitter and Facebook?
Tweets are similar to status updates on Facebook (although in FB updates can be up to 420 characters long). In Facebook you connect with ‘friends’ by mutual agreement. In Twitter anyone can see your updates and you follow people that interest you (you can protect your tweets and make them private but this rather misses the point of Twitter). They may or may not follow you back. People choose to follow you because they are interested in your updates. By using key search terms e.g. organic farming, you can find people in your industry to follow.
How many people use it?
Twitter claims to have 145 million users worldwide. That doesn’t mean everyone is actively using it but it is still phenomenal growth from a company that only set up in 2006.
SIX TWITTER TIPS
1 Decide what you want to use Twitter for e.g. market research, current affairs, generating sales, raising awareness of your brand or business etc. A good way to decide is to research how others in your field are using it. Find some people to follow. Twitter gives you some suggested people to follow when you indicate your area of interest. You can also use the find people tool or search for specific key phrases. Check the profiles of people who are following others who you follow. Follow those that interest you. It takes time to build a following. The more you post things that are interesting or valuable to your target audience the more your following will grow.
2 Vary your tweets providing insights, links to interesting articles, offers, responses to other people’s tweets and so on. Running competitions, polls or fun giveaways can be a good way to get people to engage with you. As space is tight, you only have 141 characters, you can use a number of shortening tools such as Tiny URL or Twurl to turn long web addresses such as http://www.organiccentrewales.org.uk/publications.php OCW’S publications page into http://twurl.nl/s2ib3r. Bityly is another tool for shortening web addresses.
3 You can forward or re-tweet other people’s posts. If you think your audience would be interested, go ahead and spread the word. If people re-tweet you, it is polite to thank them. Strike a balance between re-tweeting other people’s content and creating your own. 50:50 is good.
4 You can reply to someone by putting @ at the front of their Twitter name. Even if they are not following you, they are alerted to your post. Remember everyone can see these. You can send a private message to people (but only if they follow you) – this is often used when people want to continue a conversation by email e.g. for job recruitment.
5 Experiment. There are a number of applications that outside developers have built which make Twitter easier to use. The random stream of posts that you get in Twitter can be confusing. These other platforms allow you to organise tweets by topic or followers: my favourite is Tweetdeck but there is also Hootsuite, Twirl and Twitterific. These give you a stand-alone home page where you can search Twitter, and they provide instant URL shortening, @ replies and retweeting, among other things. The search tool is a key way into Twitter. You can see tweets from anyone using the search term you enter e.g. Farmers Market, global economy, carbon footprint etc. The search is not limited to just tweets from those who follow you.
6. Go mobile. Some mobile phones (e.g. iPhone, Blackberry and android phones) support apps to enable you to tweet on the move. You can also upload pictures to Twitter, great if you are at an event.
Getting started? Start using Twitter by following me, at twitter.com/julietfay
Further reading: Case study of small UK food business using Twitter.
What is Facebook?
It is a social networking platform with over 800 million users worldwide. It allows you to share aspects of your life or work with those you choose. They could be family, friends, co-workers or colleagues. You can have a personal profile on Facebook where you can now organise your friends into groups and control what information each group sees. Unlike other social networking platforms there are privacy settings allowing you to control what people can see.
What are Facebook status updates?
These are short messages you post as often as you have something to say. Unlike Twitter, you can choose who can see your updates e.g. everyone or only your friends or friends of friends. You can add photos, videos, events, links to external sites and you can also message your friends through Facebook’s own internal email service.
How do businesses and organisations use Facebook?
Businesses can set up Facebook pages or groups. The difference is explained below.
Facebook Pages are used by organisations to promote their activities. Although comment and interaction is possible, pages tend to be based on the organization pushing information out. People do not have to be logged in to Facebook to see these Pages. In order to attract followers or ‘fans’, you have to get people to ‘like’ your page. Once you have 25 fans you get a Facebook url (uniform resource locator or unique address of a file), e.g. http://www.facebook.com/soilassociation. Add relevant company information, your logo, links to sites of interest and then ideally create unique content for your Facebook page. A great way to see what to do and how you can use Facebook pages is to check out what others in your sector are doing or what people in areas that interest you are doing e.g. sport, travel, lifestyle etc.
What is the value of Fan Pages?
Facebook Pages can be thought of in much the same way as normal profiles on the site – brand or celebrity Pages have the ability to have fans, they can add pictures, and they have walls that fans can post on. Pages communicate by “updates” which show on the update tab or a person’s wall if they’re a fan and have allowed the page to show updates. Pages can have applications as well. Facebook Pages content is indexed by Search Engines which can help your information be found by people entering search queries in search engines like Google.
Facebook is all about the web of connections. Through your Facebook Page you can like other organisations’ pages and post content on their Pages which in turn can be seen by their fans.
These are like offline clubs. Groups can be private, invitation only and have an administrator. Updates or emails (under 5000 members) sent to the group appear from the administrator. They are ideal for common interest activities where the administrator is happy to be personally associated with the activity, whereas Facebook Pages are more impersonal. Updates come from the company or brand rather than a named administrator.
[Editor's note 8/11/2011: A closed Facebook group has been set up for businesses in the organic sector in Wales where they can virtually meet and share ideas, ask questions and generally support each other. Only members can see the content of the group. If you produce, process or retail organic food, textiles, skincare or other products and would like to join then please search for 'Welsh organics' in Facebook and then hit the 'Ask to join' button on the top right hand side of the screen. You can also try going straight to the page via this link. Your application to join will have to be approved so expect to wait a few days for that. If you have any difficulty finding or joining the group please email Lucy Watkins, the Better Organic Business Links Project officer.]
How do I promote my Facebook Page
Just like a website, your Facebook Page will only be useful if people know it is there. Initially you can invite your own friends to become fans, and encourage them to invite their friends. Think about offering incentives such as freebies or useful information. Promote your Facebook page in all your offline publicity material, via a button on your website or blog, via your email signature and in any e-news campaigns. Also use other platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter to promote your Facebook page.
Go ahead and 'like' my Facebook page to get you started.
Further reading: A case study, New Belgium Brewing Company, Colorado
What is LinkedIn?
Set up in 2003, LinkedIn is a social networking platform used predominantly for professional networking with over 120 million users. You create a profile that can include your current and past employment or work history. It is used to make connections with others in your field, potential customers, employers and associates. As people change jobs and email addresses frequently, LinkedIn can give you direct access to your professional network with an address book that doesn’t go out of date.
A basic LinkedIn account is free or you can upgrade to a paid account which offers more advanced features.
Like Facebook you can post updates with links and message people in your network. LinkedIn also has numerous groups that enable you to develop relationships with your networks.
The LinkedIn profile
It is your profile that people use to decide whether or not to make a connection with you. Ensure it states clearly what you do and who you can help. It is worth thinking of key words that others would use when searching for people like you or expertise like yours.
What are LinkedIn groups?
LinkedIn groups are formed around a common professional interest e.g. organic food and farming. You can search to find relevant groups for your industry and then request to join them. Some groups require you to meet certain criteria in order to join. This helps keep the discussion in those groups relevant and focused. Groups are a good way to get more out of LinkedIn. Then, just as you would offline, you can contribute to discussions, ask questions and help others. This is where you build your reputation and earn trust.
How can I use LinkedIn?
LinkedIn is used to find career opportunities, win new clients and build professional reputations. It allows you to network as an individual, and stay in touch with a powerful professional network if you move organisations or positions.
How do I find connections on LinkedIn?
As with other social networking platforms, LinkedIn will offer suggestions for relevant connections and also show you how to find people in your email address book.
How do I promote my LinkedIn profile?
Your public LinkedIn profile is visible to people not on LinkedIn and will show up in search engine query results. To actively promote your public profile, consider adding a link to your email signature, website, blog or Facebook page.
Further reading: Success stories on LinkedIn
What is Google Plus?
Google wants to join the social networking party and Google Plus is the name of the platform they have developed. It was launched in July 2011 and is seen as a direct competitor to Facebook. It has over 25 million users already and aims to offer more functionality for both business and social networking. Currently joining is by invitation only.
Further reading: A guide to Google Plus
Best practice for using social media platforms
- Have a strategy
- Don’t post too often
- Respond to comments
- Promote related activities events and organisations
- Be honest
- Offer something of value/interest/entertainment
- Engage people through competitions, giveaways, discussion and news updates
- Follow your followers; find friends
- Use automated updates with caution(ask your web developer)
Organic Centre Wales has secured almost £2 million for the Better Organic Business Links (BOBL) project funded from the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme as part of the Welsh Government Rural Development Plan.
The BOBL project provides opportunities, information and training for businesses in the Welsh organic sector to help them deliver better profitability, sustainability and exemplary environmental performance.
Better Organic Business Links, Organic Centre Wales,
IBERS, Aberystwyth University SY23 3EB Tel: 01970 622248