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It's no secret companies are using social Web sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace to advertise their goods. But some business owners may have unrealistic expectations from these sites.
Marketing executives are looking at the social Web sites as if it were wet cement, ready for them to make their imprint. "It has a huge potential. In a down economy, like right now, you have to really think where you're going to put your marketing dollars. Social networks can be a huge answer," said Shahar Boyayan, marketing adviser for Buzz Booster.
But Boyayan says building a clientele will take longer than traditional advertising, so once you start, you'll have to stick with it. She says many people give up too easily. "If I'm not willing to take the time to contribute and participate with other people, then I'm better off with the traditional advertising," she said.
There is a danger in using these sites to do business. It's very easy to make your friends think you're just being a pushy salesman, which is terrible PR. Boyayan says you should think of it this way: You're raising awareness more than your bottom line.
"Provide, 98 percent of the time, good and valuable content. Two percent of the time, ask for business. If you go the other way around, it's not going to work in any social media tool," Boyayan said.
A great way to raise awareness of your product is by creating an application. One popular app is the Green Patch, which is on both of the main social Web sites.
"Facebook has a real user-friendly [program]. It's called an API. We have programming capabilities in-house, so we've been able to make our own applications, so they're very open. Facebook will actually make them for you if you choose to hire them," said Christy Whitehouse, vice president of the Summit Group.
But Whitehouse says apps should be connected with a way of purchasing your product to be truly effective; many apps are just fun to play with. She also says the customers you do find on these sites will be very loyal because word-of-mouth may be slow, but it's very effective.
"If you give me a recommendation on something, where I know you, it's much better than if I read an ad, and that's what has really become so attractive to marketers in the social community," Whitehouse explained.
Whitehouse says she expects some communities to consolidate through aggregators, and she expects other social Web sites to disappear. But companies are forming presences on all the platforms, even if they don't really know how to use their accounts on these Web sites.