Social Networking Benefits

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"Time is money” is an old cliché with a lot of merit because time spent networking online will help your artisan business grow and expand. Social networking (a/k/a social media marketing) is undoubtedly the fastest growing form of online marketing. This low- or no-cost marketing strategy is ideal for building brand awareness for both online and offline businesses that can have a global impact.

Advertising through social media has seen a significant increase over the past few years with business owners spending anywhere from five to twenty hours per week building their networks. Users submit news, photos, videos, and comments to their preferred social networking sites that reflect common interests with other individuals who have similar interests. These forums cultivate relationships of trust and help you become known as an expert in your field, which eventually increases interest and awareness in your artwork, craft, or services.

Jay Rodriguez (http://www.jayrodchicago.com/) specializes in social media marketing and feels that during these tough economic times businesses need affordable options to promote their businesses. Social networking and marketing fits the bill perfectly. "The way I see it, individuals, or sole proprietors such as artisans, are no different than any other business,” he says. "It takes about three months to climb search engines in the most affordable way – free.”

Rodriguez advises linking to your work on your website from such social media sites as LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, Mixx and many others. This not only helps give you exposure, but also improves your site’s ranking with search engines. "The more they see your site linked with other powerful sites, the more credibility it gives you and the higher you get on their engine.”

Of course, the number one benefit of social media marketing is generating exposure for your artisan business. Other benefits include:

• Increased traffic to your website

• Potential joint venture partnership opportunities

• Establishing yourself as an expert in your field

• Growing your contact list

• A rise in search engine rankings

The most significant cost of social networking is the time involved. Discipline and time management skills are necessary to avoid getting sidetracked by the novelty of the sites. It may help to designate a specific time each day or week to participate and interact in online forums. Just remember that it takes time to establish relationships and see the results of your efforts. The end result, however, is worth the time.

There are many social networking sites and forums to choose from. However, the top three that generate the most traffic are: Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Twitter

Twitter is a very popular, free micro-blogging service that allows users to send brief messages (140 characters) or "tweets” that can be viewed by the general public. You can choose to make your tweets viewable by select people only, but this will not help to promote your business.

Your profile and tweets can be keyword optimized for your business, interests, or profession so that others can find you easily. Twitter allows you to add links to your messages, hence, one of the reasons for the increase in search engine rankings. And there are many services that allow you to shorten long URLs such as TinyURL.com and Bit.ly.

Facebook

On Facebook, it all starts with your profile page. You can set it up to reflect your business, interests, and passions. Facebook Groups are a way to build a community around your business or for branding purposes. Once you create your group you can locate individuals or other groups with similar interests to join. You can then broadcast your marketing message to group members. Facebook Pages are another option for small businesses and freelancers to establish an online presence.

LinkedIn

Think of Linked as the Facebook for professionals. It’s a more formal type of social media marketing where new contacts are typically made through an introduction from another member. There is the option of asking someone to be a contact; however, this is not always an effective strategy unless they know you through a group or have an interest in your business.

Whatever networking site you choose - whether its one or two or several – the goal is to increase your visibility by contributing to topics and providing the benefit of your expertise. As with most types of networking, you have to give of yourself before you reap the benefits. Establishing yourself as a trusted professional and valuable contact is the best strategy for procuring business. The best way to do this is by participating with other members and providing helpful tips and advice. Before long people will look at you as an expert and will want to take a closer look at your business.

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CHARLENE DAVIS (http://www.thewriteessentials.com/) is an internationally published writer specializing in business, retail, e-commerce, and food. She has written Design and Start an Online Travel Business in a Week, Start Your Own Photography Business, Start Your Own Clothing Store, and How to Sell Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories on eBay, as well as two additional books co-authored with Jacquelyn Lynn, Make BIG Profits on eBay and Start Your Own Senior Services Business (all published by Entrepreneur Press). Charlene wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (http://www.artisanbusinesses.org/), an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.

Social Networking Benefits

By: Charlene Davis