Six social media platforms that brands need to embrace

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If your brand is not using social networks, what are you waiting for? There are benefits to using these (for the most part) free tools to enhance a brand's image, collect insightful customer feedback and influence online chatter about a brand, says Aaron Joslow, principal of Rally Point, a webinar and marketing firm.

Twitter. With more than 100 users, this mircoblogging tool uses RSS feeds to share news and shortened links through personal computers and mobile phones. Marketers have found a host of uses for the site, from gathering followers, distributing product news, collecting and monitoring buzz about a brand or product, to answering customer service concerns. Joslow recommends starting with a keyword monitoring program to gauge how involved your core audience is with Twitter. “The population on Twitter is unpredictable. Three years ago it was mostly teens and early adopters on the site, but now it's gotten so large many more brands belong on the site,” he says.

Facebook. With more than 500 million users worldwide, there is no question your customers are on Facebook. Creative marketers are finding new and engaging ways to take advantage of the channel to interact with their audience. Joslow says it is extremely important to balance your marketing objectives with user autonomy on the site. “This space is all about social sharing. If you give users marketing collateral and an incentive for engaging with you, they will,” he says. “However, as soon as you over-regulate or overstep any privacy boundaries, you can do more harm than good to your reputation.”

LinkedIn. While not as popular as Facebook, LinkedIn is home to many powerful influencers. The site skews male and the average income of users is more than $100,000. Eighty percent are college graduates and half are business decision makers. “In particular, this is where business-to-business brands can really triumph,” Joslow says. “A well-maintained discussion group or news feed can go a long way.” He adds that companies that maintain professional pages may also improve their hiring processes by maintaining a strong employee presence on the site.

Wikipedia. Often overlooked by marketers, this site is a great way to get free branding and search presence. Odds are, if you are managing a well-known brand, your products already have a Wikipedia page. Do not miss the opportunity to contribute to the public image of your company. “Remember not to overdo it with marketing speak,” Joslow points out. “This is not your website — it's a public forum. By providing images and links, you can enrich the page, but this is not the place to plaster the page with your catchphrases.”

Yelp. This is one of many online review sites. Others include Customer Lobby and Epinions. Joslow suggests discovering one or two that cater to your audience, or where your company has already received reviews. “Primarily, this is a great place for companies to listen directly to what their customers are saying,” Joslow says. “If there is a nasty comment, fight the impulse to respond immediately.” Instead, he suggests addressing the issue — especially if it is a valid one — first in processes and then in outgoing marketing messages.

Foursquare. This site is a recent development in microblogging mobile geographic tools. Users are signing up to share their thoughts and experiences at restaurants, stores and landmarks with other followers. This is most appropriate for companies in entertainment and hospitality. Initially, it is important to ensure that your company has a presence on the site. “Again, this is not necessarily the place where brands will be able to control or shape what is being said about them,” Joslow says. “However if you are able to cede some control, you will gain an insight into the actual conversations that are taking place about your brand.”

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