Interview: Social Networking for Business

Catherine Brown, Dotster, Director of Enterprise Social Networking
By
M.A., SPHR - Social Media Trainer & Consultant

In today's marketplace, social networking for business is an important part of any successful marketing plan. Catherine Brown, director of Enterprise Social Networking for Dotster, Inc. shares her insight about the role social networking plays in the 21st century business world.

The Role of Social Networking in Business

LoveToKnow (LTK): Why is it important for businesses to participate in social networking?

Catherine Brown (CB): A social network is a powerful new tool for small businesses. It provides a way for customers, vendors, employees, developers and partners to meet, share ideas and learn from one another.To be clear, a business social network is not like Facebook. It is the company's own community Web site (or a new tab on their current Web site) branded with their logo and material and devoted to their customers' needs and interests.

LTK: What benefits can business expect from social networking?

CB: There are many benefits including:

  • Reduced costs with more efficient customer service, market research and customer communications.
  • Increased visibility with customers who come to your site more often and stay longer.
  • Revenue growth through display ads, paid search, search engine optimization (SEO), shopping, downloads, referrals and lead exchanges.

LTK: Is social networking just as important for small businesses with a local focus as it is for larger organizations with a more global focus?

CB: As with a large corporation, a small business can utilize a social network to increase its customer base as well as improve customer retention. For example, a local winery could have a very active network of customers discussing all aspects of wine and wine-making.In addition to food and wine, other industries that are leading the way in social networking include entertainment, healthcare and consulting.

Guidelines for Utilizing Social Networking for Business

LTK: Are there guidelines for how much time and resources businesses should devote to social networking?

CB: A social network will be more successful if the company can devote some resources to it, especially at the beginning. Here are 4 tips for making the site successful:

  1. Provide articles, posts, information and other content that is interesting to the customer.
  2. Keep the information new and exciting-posting once a day or every few days will keep customers returning to your site frequently.
  3. Promote the site to your customers so they know that the community is available to them.
  4. Moderate the forums and keep track of posts to ensure they are appropriate and relevant.

LTK: Does the demographic makeup of a company's customer base impact how social networking should be used?

CB: Any business with customers who use the Internet can benefit from a social network. Moreover, for companies with younger clients, a Web community is becoming imperative. Students and young adults expect to be able to communicate freely and frequently with their vendors, clients, peers and partners.

LTK: What forms of social networking are most important for small businesses?

CB: Small businesses should choose social networking features that support the needs of their customers. They may not need complicated additions such as avatars or streaming video. Examples of important business components include:

  • Blogs: A regularly updated blog enables you to be a subject matter expert and draw search traffic.
  • Forums: Users ask and answer each others questions. Moderation tools on these forums allow you to control the tone and subjects of discussion.
  • Polling: Surveying customers allows you to get great feedback and innovate faster.
  • Media sharing: Gets the buzz going by showing your announcements and new products and services.
  • Calendars: keep customers up to date on any events or specials.
  • Ratings: Allowing users to rate posts let the customers choose what content they like the best.

LTK: How do the costs of social networking compare to other online and offline forms of advertising?

CB: For a small business, the cost of a social network is very reasonable, especially compared to some of the more expensive forms of advertising. Dotster Connect SMB, for example, starts at $199 a month.

In addition, tangible benefits such as lower customer service costs as well as intangible ones such as improved reputation and increased satisfaction more than pay for any associated costs.

LTK: What is unique about your company, Dotster Connect, and how can it help businesses move forward in the social networking arena?

CB: Dotster offers two different social networking packages. Dotster Connect Enterprise has over 400 features and complete customization capabilities. Dotster Connect SMB is an easy to implement solution that fits a small business budget. Other reasons to choose Dotster Connect include:

  • Experience: Dotster has over ten years of experience bringing internet innovations to SMB's, including customer Web site building, Search Engine Optimization and virtual private servers.
  • Security: Dotster's experience in hosted solutions provides data integrity; trusted provider of 100 percent reliable domain name services for U.S. federal and state governments 99.9 percent network uptime.
  • Integration: The community can fit into your existing Web site and internal IT applications/systems.
  • One stop shopping: in addition to social networking, Dotster provides Domain Registration, Web site Hosting, Hosted services, E-mail, Web site design and construction, and marketing tools (e-mail, SEO, SEM).

Love to Know Social Networking would like to thank Catherine Brown for taking the time to shed light of the role and importance of social networking for business and wishes her continued success in her future endeavors.

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