Twitter. Facebook. YouTube. If I said these words to you years ago you would have looked at me like I was crazy! The aforementioned are websites used to fuel the social networking phenomenon. In case you are not aware of how social networking sites function, people use these sites to form associations with others that share the same personal or professional interests. Millions of people are using these sites to keep in touch with their families and friends. Now companies are jumping on the bandwagon and incorporating social networking sites into their marketing campaigns. Although, social networking is relatively new, it is gaining status as a new way for companies to effectively market their products and services because of the following.

The main purpose of a marketing campaign is to promote your product or service to your target market. What better way to reach your target market than on their own turf? Years ago the typical marketing campaign would have consisted of direct mail, print advertising, and if you could afford it TV or radio ads. One thing all of the aforementioned mediums fail to do is to encourage participation. Social networking sites enable you to instantaneously connect with your target market and receive feedback regarding your product and service. Regardless of what social networking site your company decides to join, all of them will enable you to foster a closer relationship with your customers-the degree in which this is accomplished rests solely upon your company.

An organization’s objectives for how to incorporate social networking into their marketing campaigns often differ.   For example, Beth Bridges, Membership Director of Clovis Chamber of Commerce states that, “Our objective in using social networking is to create a trusted community and to increase awareness of their events within the community. We also use social networking sites to have more personal interaction with members who we might not see at regular networking activities and reach more of the younger business owners in the community who are using social media much more extensively to promote themselves and their businesses. Consumers are already doing what they intended to do on these-connect with family and friends-you (companies) are the new kid on the block so it is up to you how you want others to perceive your brand.

It is a safe bet that the majority of companies that are new to social networking may be tempted to mention their product every five minutes on these sites-it is in your best interest not to do so. I realize that many organizations’s main objective for using social networking sites is to promote their product. I am not telling you to abandon your objective-just alter the method in how you choose to do so. People use products and services for different reasons and you will never know any of them if you do not take the time to foster a relationship with your target market. Many have been conditioned into thinking that companies could care less about their customers so it is up to your company to prove them wrong.

Word of mouth continues to be an important factor in whether consumers and businesses purchase a product or service. Many people consult with family and friends before purchasing a product or service they have never used. People are always asking others for advice on products and services on Twitter. Not too long ago, I went on Twitter to get feedback on software I was considering purchasing and got a response within seconds. This person not only commented about the software I was considering purchasing but recommended alternative software that was cheaper and more robust. Everyone desires to feel confident about the purchases that they make and although they may conduct some research of a product or service (i.e. Consumer Reports) it does not carry as much weight as family or friends.

Cultivating a relationship will enable you to stay ahead of the competition-provided you are listening to your target market. Social networking sites allow you the ability to gauge if you are effectively promoting your product or service to your target market. Based upon conversations in the forums you have the ability to find out what needs are not being met and create a service to meet that need. Social networking enables you to discover opportunities. Those who successfully do will reap the benefit of loyal customers. These customers will then share your product or service with their family and friends. It is more effective if you let your target market promote your product for you.

Social Networking – Can Your Company Afford Not to Engage?