3 Ways to Proactively Monitor Your Online ReputationIt depends on what you are trying to achieve with your site, but for many sites, the answer is increasingly ‘YES’.

Social media (mainly Facebook and Twitter for the purposes of this article) have become increasingly pervasive. Recently I read that one minute of every eight spent on the Internet, is spent on Facebook. If the purpose of a web site is to communicate, then identifying where other people are – is a good start.

A ‘No-Brainer’ for Charities

Charities web site Justgiving tells us that 15% of all people donating via the Justgiving site come via Facebook. Clearly, then, for a charity it should be a ‘no-brainer’ to set up a Facebook page and work on integrating it: both your web site and your Facebook presence should benefit from it. However, one shouldn’t underestimate the work involved in maintaining one’s presence. From my experience, with Tanzania Development Trust, I know that for a voluntary organization, resources can be an issue, particularly if it takes a while to build momentum. Can volunteers maintain the consistency and enthusiasm required to optimize a social media presence?

A ‘Must’ for Band, Gigs and Events

We have all heard stories of teenagers informing the world via Facebook of a planned party, with disastrous results! But it points to a truth: no sensible music event, festival or gig would dream of setting up without a Facebook presence. Bands and performers use social media to build a fan base and keep it informed of their plans and movements. It is fair to say that in these cases, social media leads the way, with the web site complementing its more ‘buzzy’, up-to-the-minute feel.

Not Just Teenagers Any More…

Still for those who haven’t invested time in creating a Twitter profile and presence, the overriding view is likely to be that it’s a waste of time. Why should we be worried about what someone had for breakfast? Who cares about what people are tweeting during the ‘X Factor’? Isn’t social media dominated by yóung people who use it to exchange the minutiae of their lives?

In fact, the most significant growth in recent years among social media sites has been from users aged 50+. This has steadily driven up the average age of users. By 2010, the average age of a Facebook user had reportedly risen to 38, with 61% of users older than 38. The average Twitter user was 39, with 64% of tweeters older than 35.

No wonder, then, that businesses are now seeing social media as a significant force for business. Many major corporations acknowledge this by seeking to build a social media strategy to communicate and engage with their customers. At a more human level, Twitter and Facebook can be used to drive viewers to a web site. Have you made an interesting post on your blog, an important update to your Facebook site, launched a product on your web site? Then why not alert your followers on Twitter?

Facebook as a Complement to a Business Web Site

Making the most effective use of social media for business purposes is a subject in itself, and heavyweight businesses and brands team up with expensive agencies to try to figure it out. For now, therefore, I shall limit myself to the observation that people like to engage with other people. It’s realistic for businesses with a social aspect (after all, it’s called ‘social media’) to hope to make an impact via social media without such an expensive approach.

In developing web sites for a couple of pubs, I was very much aware of the need to achieve a balance between appealing to the new visitor, probably interested mainly in the food offering and amenities, and the regular crowd, more interested in the social gossip and upcoming events. The former is very likely to be put off by pictures of the pub bore leering into the lens, or the guy who specializes in falling off his bar stool! For the latter, a feeling of real involvement is probably hard to achieve on a conventional web site, even with regular updates and the easiest content management system.

I used to maintain a site for my local pub in Cornwall, The Ship Inn at Mawgan. Since I moved away, the pub has changed hands and the new owners opted to use people they know for their web site. Though the new web site is pretty basic, I have been very much struck by their use of Facebook. In a matter of months, they built up almost 400 ‘friends’. The Facebook/shippinnmawgan.co.uk site is a useful tool for the proprietors to send out details of forthcoming events and promotions, but it is used just as much by customers, sharing their buzz, reflecting on the weekend’s music, etc. etc. An excellent way of building a loyal following, in an increasingly difficult industry!

Developing a Fan Base for a Sporting Event

In a sport that I follow, horse racing, I have been watching with interest the social media campaign for the QIPCO British Champions Series. This new (in 2011) series, sponsored by the Qatari royal family’s business QIPCO, was criticised at the outset for lacking a logical focus: though its end-of-season climax called itself ‘Champions Day’, most weren’t really championship races, they were sandwiched between established championships built around the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France and the Breeders’ Cup in the US, and so on and so forth. However, the horse racing season follows a well-trodden path, its rhythms, rituals and great occasions having endured for decades, even centuries. The 35-race series, running from April to October and sponsoring many of our most historic races, is ideal for the development of a narrative, and the building and involvement of a fan club. And the Twitter and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/britishchampionsseries) campaigns have displayed admirable energy.

But here’s the rub: it’s not enough to just set up a profile on Facebook or Twitter, integrate them with your web site, and expect amazíng results. You need to do the work, in building up a base of followers, and in presenting content. More than anything else, to be consistent. This doesn’t mean tweeting or posting about every little thing. In fact, that may be the worst thing you can do. On the other hand, even if your message is a serious one, you must remember to ENTERTAIN your followers now and again. Just like life, it’s about balance.

By Robert Gibson (c) 2012