How do you use social media to promote your business online?

A friend of mine sent me the following question:

“What sites do you use / recommend using to promote content (i.e. blogs, articles, etc.)? I’m re-tooling our business website and blog, and want to make sure I get the most effective (popular?) ones, along the lines of Technorati, Digg, etc. Your answers will help me pick the buttons I’ll use…”

I have heard this same basic question again and again as I have gone to different conferences and it’s one I think about too: how do you use all this stuff in a coherent fashion?
There are definitely some people who say “you should just do it all” and some of them even have a presence on dozens of social media sites. To me, that’s not a viable answer because most people — myself included — want to focus on their core business, not the promotional tools. It’s like someone who forgets that in addition to nice print ads, their restaurant still needs to serve a good meal. Not a good long term strategy, needless to say!
My view of things is that you need to have both a “destination” and pointers to that destination in the online world. Further, I believe that each of the major social networks (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc.) is its own little universe and that you need to have some sort of presence on each of these where your potential customers participate. (let me explain that a bit further: if you have a restaurant, yes, you should have a presence on MySpace. If you’re a lawyer, however, LinkedIn is more likely to be your core constituency).
Your destination is where you tell the story, where you sell your product or service (gently, please), where you actually try to close the sale. My recommendation for this is a weblog (not surprisingly) where you can create search-engine friendly content and retain control of its design and presentation. I also recommend that you have a standalone blog, rather than using, say, the “notes” section on Facebook or the crude blogging tools available in MySpace.
Once you’ve created the destination content, it’s time to think about what additional sites can help you promote and gain traffic. There are two categories of these: bookmarking sites like Digg and Delicious and separate universes like Facebook and MySpace.
For the former, there’s a never-ending wrestling match between having them be valuable and having them be polluted by people trying to game the system. In particular, Digg has had a lot of growing pains in this regard and I’ve spoken with “top diggers” who candidly say that they sell their popularity: you want visibility on Digg? Pay them.
Nonetheless, if your audience is sufficiently tech savvy to know what these sites actually are, then there’s no reason not to include a few of those bookmarking buttons. I suggest you include Digg, Delicious and StumbleUpon, or use a consolidation bookmark tool or widget like Socialtwist, which I’m using on my busy Ask Dave Taylor site.
Don’t go crazy and list ten or more of these. There are sooooo many me-too bookmark sites but listing too many causes confusion for readers, the old “embarrassment of riches” problem. It’s not going to gain you additional visibility.
In terms of separate universes, of the social networking sites (as opposed, as I said earlier, to bookmarking sites), I think almost everyone should have a meaningful presence on Facebook and if it’s a professional product or service, LinkedIn. If your target demographic includes the under-18 crowd then you also need to be on MySpace.
On many of these sites you can automate things so that when you post a new blog entry it shows up on these sites too (for example, see my article about How to hook your blog RSS feed to your Facebook profile) which certainly makes life easy. Automation is good.
The problem is that I don’t think that every single blog entry I write is appropriate for every social community within which I’m a participant, so my suggestion is that if you write something really good, manually promote it on the other sites too.
That’s a perfect use of Twitter, for example: not to think of Twitter as a purely promotional channel (which will fail) but rather to intersperse an occasional pointer back to your core content with your other Twitter comments. This is exactly applicable to, for example, your Facebook status updates (ditto MySpace, LinkedIn, etc).
If your material includes video, YouTube can drive traffic, and if you’ve photographs or still images, putting them up on Flickr can produce yet another traffic stream.
Finally, after this crazy long entry, I will say that my plan for promoting this particular blog entry is to mention it on Twitter with a clickable URL link included, to post the same status message on Facebook and to write a brief summary – with “read more” link – and post it to my MySpace blog area. And, hopefully, a few of you will bookmark it too, but I don’t pre-bookmark my own entries.
…and the fact that you’re reading this shows that the strategy works, at least at some level. 🙂

Btw, if we haven’t yet hooked up in these online worlds, you can find me online quickly and easily through Dave Taylor Online.

4 comments on “How do you use social media to promote your business online?

  1. I use many of them, because it keeps the game interesting and some of them are actually quit revolutionary from a design perspective, but I never think that some new social tool is going to “be my ticket”.

  2. Just found your blog and have been happily clicking around your learning important pieces of information for my growing food blog and my imaginary life as an iPhone app developer. Thank you for your insights and great interviews!

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