In the first part of this useful guide to online schmoozing, PCR explains how firms can benefit from a tweet or two

Smart social networking: part one

There’s no rule saying that you have to use social networking sites. But doing so can increase brand awareness, direct people to your website, introduce you to new customers and help you make friends in the industry. Lots of businesses are already taking advantage – do you really want to be left behind?

VIP (@VIPComputersUK on Twitter) certainly feels these sites are a necessity – it recently appointed a social networking specialist. Sales director Dave Stevinson commented: “It’s absolutely crucial as more and more B2B and B2C operations are now connecting digitally across these sites. Many years ago people said ‘do we need a website?’ – it’s now unheard of to consider being a business with no online reach.”

He points out that one of the many benefits of Twitter is the way it works with Google – incredibly important if you have a website and want to build traffic. “Google pulls data from social media networks, particularly Facebook and Twitter. So any reach on those networks helps with SEO. For example, each post provides a back link, as Twitter creates optimised status pages with a URL which can now appear in top ten results.”

Matthew Setchell of IT firm Mattian (@mattian), says: “It’s a support network, a free networking event and a promotional channel all in one.” Perhaps more importantly, as someone who relies on good word-of-mouth for his PC repair work, he comments: “You may not only get direct sales, but you never know who will pass on your details to people who don’t use Twitter. People trust someone they can easily contact and have a conversation with.”

Kath Gaskell (@JubileeKath) from retailer Jubilee also brings up the people factor: “Social networking is absolutely essential. I am finding it a good way to build up relationships with people I already know in business and hope that this will lead to more business. I enjoy the contact, so it is worthwhile for that alone.”

Once you decide to dip a toe in the online waters, what next? As with any form of communication, there are good and bad ways to go about it. You can’t simply register on a site and expect the customers to come flocking. Building an online presence can be done for free or next to nothing, but it does take time and what you get out of it very much depends on what you put in.

Look out for part two, due to appear later today, in which @HelenFrench guides would-be social butterflies through the challenges of networking online and doles out a few Twitter tips…

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