Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are fairly recent but are an overwhelming phenomenon for connecting people on the Web.
The most recent Pew Survey on social network usage shows that 67 per cent of online adults use social networks, with that average peaking at 83 per cent for 18-29 year-olds. As stated earlier, more than 90% of adults use the Internet to search for goods and services. Clearly, these numbers show that you will not go wrong using either tool to take your business online.
Again comparing to the offline world, a website is like a free-standing shop. You are in control of all aspects of signage, hours, heating, clean up, etc. A social network might be closer to being in a shopping centre with millions of other stores where your control is more limited and certain restrictions apply, but you benefit from the mutual traffic. We recommend that you take both paths, taking advantage of the unique features of each.
A website will offer you the most advantages in terms of flexibility and control—and it can be very, very simple. At its most basic, think of a website as a one-page flyer or an ad for your business. Many registrars can help you build a simple Website with Web hosting and other tools.
The drawback of your own site is minor – just keeping content up to date and making sure it is linked to the other parts of your business – directories, advertising, social networks and signage. The site can be as simple as a contact page or as complex as a multi-page e-commerce site – the level of complexity will determine your investment in time and money.
Whether or not you build a website, we recommend using your domain name for company e-mail, e.g. email@example.com. It can make a big difference to potential customers. In fact, our survey found that a full 90 per cent of people feel more comfortable as the customer of a small business with branded e-mail versus those that use @aol.com, @yahoo.com, @gmail.com, etc. You can set up multiple e-mail addresses for different employees or departments for a consistent company impression (firstname.lastname@example.org, etc.). You work hard to be professional with your services, equipment and staff – that professionalism should extend to your e-mail and give potential customers added confidence in your business.
It is hard to believe that just ten years ago, no one had really heard of Facebook or Twitter. Today over a billion people use these social networks as well as e-Commerce sites such as amazon.com, etsy.com and Yelp.com. There are many positives: it is easy to set up a social network page, there is a built-in base of potential customers, and it is a great way to get started with a low-commitment online presence.
A minor drawback may be the lack of control. You are posting a free page in a crowded network and rules apply that limit what or how much you can post. The social aspect may also require a bit of monitoring. On these social networks, people are able to comment on your page and leave feedback – it is important to address any complaints quickly and/or control who can post on your page.
If you decide that your sole online presence will be on a social network site, you should still have a domain name “point” to your social network or e-commerce page. That way, you will have a single address on the Web no matter which social network you use—even if you change networks or move to your own company Website. You will also get the benefit of an easily-remembered address to use for marketing, as well as a company-branded e-mail through the domain name.
Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are trademarks of Facebook, Inc. LinkedIn, Inc and Twitter, Inc. respectively.