When it comes to devising Social Networking strategies for businesses, there is often the tendency to go all out and sign up for every social networking service that is. This means that the efforts of your employees will be spread out across Facebook, Orkut, Twitter, a blog, and any other strategy that you may come up with. Such an overkill not only dilutes the efforts of your workforce, but also hampers in the communication. A single, simple, direct mailer is often much more effective than all the other approaches combined. You need to figure out a Social Networking mix that works best for you, and each site is well suited for a range of purposes. This is where we come in.
Direct Mailers: Direct Mailers are a great way to keep a customer base updated. Sending out a direct mailer every day or every week is not optimal, and will often be ignored. If you run a website that requires frequent updates, a summary of a week's proceedings is ideal. If you have any other business, then a bi-monthly, or even a monthly e-mail works wonders. These should not be written as an advertisement, but instead should excite or inspire the readers in some way. Ideally, they should wait in anticipation of the next e-mail, and enjoy each one. It is great if the e-mails are more personal and colourful, instead of a straight faced approach. If you need to use a lot of formatting for placing text and images, then the best approach is to host all the content on your own website, and format it as much as necessary - while the direct mailer has a block of teaser text and a link. This removes any restrictions of formatting within the framework of an e-mail. Words should be used for maximum impact, and if you link to the web site, then it shows that you are not intruding into your customer's inbox.
Twitter: Twitter is a stream of information that can be used in many ways. Increasingly, businesses are using Twitter to interact with their customers, host contests, get feedback and more. Whether or not you need to use Twitter depends on a number of factors. First of all, Twitter is a very personal medium, and works best when a Twitter feed has a face to back it. For example, if there is a company X, it is better for a person representing the company to use Twitter, rather than a Twitter account with a logo of the company X. Twitter works best for small businesses, which are largely one man shows. Also, if you are using Twitter, be prepared to develop a personality for the Twitter feed, which is something that will grab the eyeballs of tweeple. This does not mean that Twitter is to be taken lightly. In fact, it is great to plan several Tweets in advance, and have a general "plot" for your Twitter stream.
Facebook and Orkut: This is even more personal than Twitter, and businesses are not even allowed to have pages. It is best to avoid Facebook entirely, unless your business thrives on a lot of community participation - an outdoor adventure company or an events management company. If you do use Facebook or Orkut, use it for organising meets and activities, instead of maintaining fan pages or for status updates of your "business". Otherwise, social networking sites are a waste, as you will be reaching out to a very small portion of your customers, and small businesses do not command enough loyalty and participation to keep the activity up.
Forums: If you sell something for a niche market, forums are a great way of providing a space for customer interaction. This serves the dual purpose of some sort of semi-official support mechanism, as well as a great platform for very direct feedback about your products. You do not need to hire any additional staff for maintaining the forums, as once they are set up, participating members can be picked up to moderate certain areas, defend the forum from spammers and trolls, and approve of certain threads. A good forum also serves the purpose of directing people to your main web site, as a lot of user participation increases your search rankings considerably.
The bottom line is that Social Networking is a two way street - if you are not getting enough response in the first few months, back out of the activity, instead of letting it stagnate. Dead Twitter streams or Facebook pages harm the business more than they help it, as people who do wander in get lost. To be honest, these strategies will not really work very well for your business, unless it is heavily dependent on the Internet itself. A website that sells T-Shirts for example, will work better than an offline business that sells camping gear. If your business is primarily offline, it is better for you to maintain a simple website for giving clear directions of how, when and where to contact you, and at most a Twitter stream for a little added personality. If you are looking for ways to build up your brand and your reputation, then social networking is for you. If, however, you are looking to increase sales directly, social networking helps to a lesser extent in India.