Many decry the loss of community, suggesting we’ve all lost touch with each other in a world of cell phones, video games, and other electronically based distractions; in reality, though, community is more important now than ever. People still seek the security and understanding inherent in close communities. What has changed is the appearance: instead of reaching out over the fence or sitting around a table, we reach out over continents and time zones. Our “neighbors” may be a world away, but the concept of community is still strong as evidenced by the rise of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Instead of being connected by geography, millions are linked by interests, profession, and other defining factors.
Social Networks Are Less Confining Than Ever
The social networking site phenomenon also extends to businesses and marketing, specifically how businesses can build their brand without selling. These sites, which have been used with tremendous success, are based on a small business model. Small businesses typically cannot afford expensive television ads and aggressive marketing campaigns. Instead, they rely on word of mouth, repeat customers, customer referrals, and the like. Custom social networking sites do much the same thing for businesses of any size and have become one of the most effective brand marketing tools in the industry.
Why Custom Social Networking?
The goal of custom SNS is to build relationships. While it is true that the ultimate goal of any business is to sell a product or service, the objective of unique social networks is to establish a relationship between customers and the brand, and even between customer and customer. In other words, the goal here is not to sell. Through a custom social network, a company appeals to the sense of community that may tie their target audience together. By taking their interests to heart and by providing a resource through which consumers may communicate, a relationship – and trust – is founded. A by-product of that trust is sales. But again, the key to efficacy is focusing on community, not selling.
Existing social networks have been used by companies, especially nonprofits, to reach out to targeted consumer bases. A nonprofit, for instance, may have a profile on a popular SNS in order to encourage volunteers, raise support for a particular cause, or raise funds. The difference is that custom SNS are built by an organization specifically for the purpose of allowing their targeted audiences to communicate. These SNS are designed for a particular organization based on key factors, such as profession, age, or shared interests. Developing a successful unique social network is predicated upon knowing your audience, being willing to know them further, and motivating them to share their thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
What do custom social networking sites allow consumers to do? It, of course, depends on the site, but they should allow individuals to post text, images, audio, video, join existing communities on the site, and create their own. They should be designed around the organization’s particular niche, and above all, should be audience-based. To do this, various options are available, including wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, polls, ratings, forums, widgets, chat, message boards, friendly interface, and much more. To develop the most user-friendly, interactive, and effective SNS, it is crucial that consumers have access to the tools they want and need. They need to both be able to take from the site and to give back to it. This is the essence of community.
The advantages of developing a custom social networking site are myriad but the key benefit is that businesses can reach out the community in a way that allows the community to reach back. A relationship is developed, and the trust that we normally see with neighborhood mom and pops can be built by Fortune 500 companies or small start-ups.
The concept of community is fundamentally unchanged. We still search for connections – though those connections may be thousands of miles away. Building a brand through custom social networks benefits both the organization and the consumer because all are given a place and a voice. A faceless company can no longer expect to thrive in today’s business atmosphere; by creating a unique SNS, you give your organization – and your consumers – a face.