Social Networking Review

Until recently, anyone with a limited time or budget to try to grow their online presence would have a single, straightforward priority. Build a site, carry out some search engine optimisation, submit it to google and keep refreshing the site content. Now, there's a range of potentially bewildering additions to the scene and a feeling that you should somehow be covering all of them: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Ecademy, YouTube, Flickr, Bebo, MySpace etc. Yet, your time is still limited so where do you start?

You could draw up a long list of dependent criteria but the short answer, from me at least, would be Twitter. Signing up and getting going couldn't be easier and, with the 140 character limit, a few minutes per day should be enough to tweet news or additions to your site and you'll be doing enough to give your followers an increasing awareness of your business. Avoid overt selling and you should start to find that more people are signing up to follow you, some of whom could turn in to a more profitable part of your network in the future.

Facebook has more potential to drive traffic to your site but it will take a lot more time to set up and maintain an effective wall, and the signing up process and interface will have most novices pulling their hair out. Additionally, while many twitter accounts are business owners and most are receptive to others like themselves, most facebook users are younger, mainly seeking entertainment and famously adept at filtering out the 'corporate' noise. If you think you can achieve your business goals with content that won't appear too dry, it's well worth a shot.

Facebook shares an additional negative with YouTube, in that other users and fans/followers can add content that will appear on your page. This can add a great dynamic quality but, particularly with YouTube, that content may be abusive or rascist, and will need to be continually monitored to protect your brand.

LinkedIn may be the best option for overt business networking and most likely to be of interest to companies whose primary target is business-to-business, particularly in specialist markets and disciplines. Depending on your subscription level, you can search for and connect with people working for specific companies or in specific positions, with a surprisingly high number of owners, directors and decision makers signed up. However, nobody is obliged to accept invitations to join their network.

It will take a few hours to sign up and complete all the key profile information but once that's done, you have the choice to take a fairly passive role and see who gets in touch with you (most likely professional networkers) or spend some time finding and building a network or potentially valuable business partners, suppliers or clients.

Email the author: Neil Ferguson