Tom Howlett

How Businesses Have Changed in Response to Social Media

6th Feb 2012 Social Media 12 minutes to read

Social Media for BusinessSocial networking and social media has been massive in the last 7 years or so (that was roughly when MySpace was in its prime). Ever since then it has grown exponentially and is now part of people’s daily lives.

Facebook now has approximately 845 million users (December 2011) and Twitter currently has around 300 million. The huge popularity of social networks has encouraged the business world to respond, with most businesses nowadays having some sort of social presence. For many it has become an integral part of their online marketing efforts. 

The adoption of social media by businesses has been much slower compared to the general user. This is to be expected though as, by nature, businesses need to be sure that a presence on these platforms will be beneficial for their bottom line. Before businesses become involved, a social networking site will usually already have a strong user base and be currently experiencing an increase in popularity. You tend to hear of a few success stories before most companies are drawn towards using the platform to try and duplicate this success.

Aside from popularity, suitability has also been a factor in the slower adoption-rate for businesses in social media. Some platforms didn’t enable business pages or profiles, causing many companies to register for a standard user profile as a workaround.

So largely, the initial usage of popular social platforms by businesses has been slow and steady, but is usually followed by a huge influx when the platforms are proved as a viable way to reach a target market. In this post I will talk about various social networks and how businesses can or should be using them.


Facebook has gone from strength to strength since its conception 8 years ago. In 2009 Facebook first allowed users to create a page on a topic, for example a page on a celebrity or sport. These were quickly adopted by businesses, enabling them to create pages for their brand. They could create a page around their brand, gain fans, post updates for fans to see, specify a vanity URL (important for ranking), include a keyword rich description about the business and services and post direct links to their main website.

In early 2011, Facebook gave the owners of pages the ability to create custom landing pages that would be seen initially by people who hadn’t ‘liked’ your page. This gave businesses the opportunity to encourage likes, usually via an incentive. It became a great way to build up a loyal fan base to market services, promotions and content towards. Due to the sheer number of Facebook users (which is still increasing), it started to become a must-have presence for businesses and brands as it was a relatively cheap way of potentially bringing in lots of new custom. This was forcing businesses to become a lot more socially-focused, considering social as part of the wider strategy and on occasions deciding to turn their back on direct marketing strategies that didn’t offer such a great return on investment.

So, how has this changed the way in which businesses and brands market themselves to consumers?

Businesses have had to change the way they reach consumers on Facebook. The direct marketing approach is unlikely to work; it poses the question to companies and brands: why would someone like my page? The key is to engage with consumers, to give them a reason to like the page. This normally includes some sort of incentive such as competitions, involvement in product development or the ability to receive tester products before official release or anything similar. Businesses have had to think on a much more social level, rather than relying on traditional marketing efforts.

What about Facebook Commerce?

Facebook commerce enables businesses to sell via Facebook. Items can be shared across the Facebook world which gives business the potential of reaching many consumers. This however is still in its infancy and has yet to be widely adopted. If worldwide adoption continues, it is likely to give businesses a completely new avenue for selling products, finding new customers and creating and effective way of marketing to existing customers and fans.

How Facebook has changed businesses (summary):

  • Created a less expensive avenue for reaching new and existing fans/customers
  • Forced businesses to think more socially as part of their overall strategy
  • Evolving the way they market from traditional direct marketing methods
  • Forcing them to try and engage their audience


Twitter was conceived in 2006, with the idea of sending posts (Tweets) limited to 140 characters to followers. This was a way of conversing with people and posting statuses in real time. This network soon gained popularity and in 2011 was reported to have 300 million registered users.

“Twitter was reported to have 300 million users in 2011” – Tweet This

Initially Twitter was used by the usual web crowd and the platform began popular among celebrities to reach their fans. At first, users weren’t too keen on businesses utilising Twitter for their own benefit and some felt it would ruin the Twitter platform. As time went on, Twitter started to be adopted by businesses and it offered a unique way of interacting with fans or customers.

Businesses started using Twitter to update followers of recent happenings within the company, posting special offers or promotions (sometimes they were Twitter only offers), engaging within the community on a level that was previously impossible to do so efficiently, whilst also using it as a service to aid customer service.

The hashtag on Twitter  is a tagging system that can be placed into Tweets. Hashtags are not limited whatsoever and anyone can create them just by including it within a tweet. The power of the hashtag is in its viral nature, sometimes these can spread and suddenly you have thousands of people using the hashtag to stake their opinion on something. People are able to browse trending topics and this can lead to many, many more people discovering the hashtag. Companies can potentially exploit the use of the hashtag to promote something for their own gain. This could be a competition or another form of promotion that will influence people to get involved or share. This method of promotion is free if a business feels as though they can make it work, although the chances of manufacturing something and making it go viral is slim.

Companies can also use the hashtag to make their tweet easier to find via search. If, for example, a business offers specific services within a local community, using a location specific hashtag may find users located within that area and they could be a potential customer.

Twitter now also offers promotional Tweets. For a fee, a company can promote a tag which is shown within the trending topics. This can be a good way of promoting awareness, attempting to make a hashtag go viral and gaining followers. The only drawback is that promoted tweets tend to be reserved for larger companies, an example would be a recent promoted hashtag from T-Mobile using #britainloves for their latest promotion. This could be completely down to advertising costs as you are potentially advertising to 300 million pairs of eyes.

Another promotional trend utilising Twitter is the ‘pay with a Tweet’ system. This enables businesses to offer consumers something in return for a Tweet. This can be anything from a free font if you own a design related website to a free sample of a product for promoting it. This is another way of potentially making something go viral because people love free stuff (a Tweet is generally a small price to pay).

At present, businesses users of Twitter have to use their imagination in order to gain much business. It is a great tool for networking, if you are a local business you can increase your presence within your community and meet like-minded or similar businesses, this in turn may bring business. To gain lots of interested followers who are preferably the type of people who are likely to be customers of yours, businesses have to get involved. They have to Tweet less about stuff directly related to the business, get involved within the community, offer a level of customer service as they are likely to get a few questions or unhappy customers, be social and keep active. These are all essential for gaining and retaining followers, something that requires time and a strategic plan. This is what makes it unsustainable for many businesses.

Twitter Brand Pages

Twitter brand pages are relatively new and offer some brands the opportunity to have pages that contain more customisable content, space for promotional banners and more. These cost $25,000 and therefore are generally reserved for larger companies and brands. This could potentially be a direction Twitter are heading in with regards to businesses and you may see something for small businesses someday, we will have to wait and see.

How Twitter has changed businesses (summary):

  • Created a platform to communicate with fans and potential future customers in real time
  • It has enabled businesses to perform real time customer service
  • If a business utilises Twitter for their business, it likely has been incorporated into the overall strategy and daily activity because it needs updating regularly in order to gain ground
  • It has created a whole different method of payment and promotion with the ‘pay with a Tweet’ system


LinkedIn was launched in 2003 and now has a reported 135 million users. The whole purpose of the site is for businesses or individuals to network; a user will have a professional profile as opposed to a profile which is more geared around their personal life. Users can add educational and employment history, qualifications, awards and information about them in general. It generally acts as an online CV (Resume) and a platform for users to network with other individuals or find jobs.

Companies on the other hand can have a profile which describes the company, they can network with others and connect with employees. LinkedIn has the functionality to post jobs and keep followers up-to-date on the latest news or events happening within the company. It also offers a sponsored ads feature that allows companies to advertise on the platform that is likely to be used by business professionals the world over.

Overall, LinkedIn does not offer much in the way for a business to gain more customers and make more money. One of the best uses for Linked In is for recruitment. It is definitely beneficial for a business to have a Linked In presence.

How Linked In has changed businesses (summary):

  • Gives them a platform to network.
  • Enables them to post company updates and news.

Google Plus

Google Plus is a relatively new platform, only being released in 2011. Similar to Facebook, Google Plus enables individuals and businesses to set up a profile, a platform to connect with friends and share items within their circles. Google Plus has a feature called circles, you can create a number of different ‘circles’, for example ‘People from work’ and segment connections within these circles. This enables people to update everyone with statuses or alternatively just update certain circles.

One main difference between Google Plus and other popular platforms is the complete integration with other Google services, including the main search engine. Users when using the search engine may come across a listing related to their search which has been recommended from someone within their circles, this makes search much more social.

Google Plus has yet to be widely adopted and is still growing. The recent adoption of Brand Pages enables businesses to have a business profile where companies are able to provide a business description, add photos and post news and status updates. The benefit of having a profile is the integration of search, Google seem to be going much more social and having a profile will ensure that, from a social aspect, your business won’t be left behind.

Businesses and individuals are able to integrate their profile directly with their site, but adding a Google Plus button or a Google +1 button. The benefit of this is the potential to gain more followers and increase the chances of having a more socially driven search engine listing. If a business has lots of followers and recommendations from others, potential customers are potentially much more likely to convert.

Google Plus is still in its infancy and may offer much more for businesses in the future. It is beneficial for businesses to have a Google Plus presence to make sure that this has positive results within the search engine as Google become more socially driven.

How Google Plus In has changed businesses (summary):

  • This can lead to improved search engine presence
  • Social proof can potentially send more customers
  • Brand pages can rank highly for company search
  • Pages are customisable and can act as another promotional platform


Pinterest is the new kid on the block, and has recently has skyrocketed in popularity. Slightly different to the other examples in this post, Pinterest focuses on image sharing. Users can create ‘Boards’ around a specific subject, for example Kitchens, and ‘Pin’ images to those boards related to that theme simply by entering a web page URL or an external site and pulling in an image or by uploading one of their own.

This site is very popular in the fashion, wedding and home decor sectors but is gradually being used as a marketing tool for other businesses. Users of the site can Re-Pin images to their own boards to make it a great social sharing platform.

Pinterest can provide a Ecommerce website or a website that sells a product a platform for some great publicity. For example, it could be used by a up and coming fashion designer to post images of their work, or it can be used by an architecture firm to post photographs of their portfolio.

There is a ‘Gift’ section of the website which enables users to browse gifts filtered by cost. A new and enjoyable way for people to browse and discover new products.

Pinterest was recently said to be a referring more traffic to websites compared to Twitter, which is very promising for the owners and users. You are now able to get a Pinterest button to add to your site and visitors can Pin your web page easily which is likely to increase the number of Pins your site will receive.

It is interesting to see how some businesses are adapting to the platform, for example Mashable who are a business and technology Blog who are using the platform to promote Blog posts.

Pinterest is still quite young and its sudden popularity was likely unexpected from the owners point of view. This does mean that it could move in a certain direction in the near future, it might implement business pages so companies can have a more established presence on the site, like Facebook, Twitter and Google, it is too early to tell. It definitely offers an exciting and new opportunity for businesses to get their word out there. It will be interesting to see what direction they end up heading in, one thing that is likely is the implementation of some sort of sponsored advertising.

How Pinterest In has changed businesses (summary):

  • This site is still relatively new so hasn’t had a huge impact yet
  • Provides a visually driven platform where businesses can find new customers
  • More suitable for Ecommerce websites currently, a great way to share products
  • May result in more Pinterest style websites for other niches

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