February 21, 2012

3 new social platforms your company should be paying attention to

Back in 2004 when Facebook first launched, there was no reason for companies to pay any attention. The platform was only open to a select number of American university students and nobody really thought of “poking” as having any real business value. It couldn’t be much better than a big, college chat room…could it?

By the time YouTube and Twitter launched within the next few years, Facebook was already well on its way to becoming the dominant social platform and businesses were beginning to tune in. The company had launched interest “like” pages in 2007 and redesigned them for business purposes in 2009. Nobody dared to question the business value of Facebook as it launched its famous “Like” button on April 22, 2010.

But while businesses undoubtedly grasp the value of Facebook, there is still a lot of reticence to join other social platforms – potentially because none have become as powerful as Facebook with its 800 million users. Even platforms like Twitter – which has managed to topple governments around the world – still struggles to convince companies of its business value.

Still, just because a social platform doesn’t have 800 million users doesn’t mean that it can’t dramatically change the way you do business. Innovative cross-platform social strategies can often result in an increase in user acquisition and retention. So here are 3 new platforms you should be paying attention to, if you haven’t already.

1. Quora

Founded in 2009 by a handful of former Facebook founders, Quora is the social web’s answer to Yahoo Answers. This social Q&A site may not seem that different from the rest – but the company’s original user acquisition strategy encouraged well-known professionals to use the platform as early adopters. Therefore, you can find questions and answer by people like Sun Microsystems co-founder and former CEO Vinod Khosla, amongst others.

But what does this mean for business? This platform can do everything from help you recruit talent to help you establish relationships with potential clients – primarily by demonstrating your expertise. It’s a little less fun than poking and retweeting, but then again, it’s far more professional. By clearly demonstrating your expertise in relevant topics, your answers will begin to make their way to the forefront. This, in turn, should help you (and your business) gain exposure. Don’t believe me? Just read how HelpJuice leveraged Quora for customer acquisition.

It can also be used as a more indirect customer service channel. If you notice that a particular question that is related to your business or sector is accumulating a lot of followers, then it’s probably worth paying attention to. Mashable’s Heather Whaling notes the example of Instagram’s CEO Kevin Systrom, who leveraged the platform do openly answer questions about his company.

To find out more on how building a Quora presence can be beneficial to your business (and how to do it!), check out this article from Inc. Magazine.

2. Instagram

The company crowned as Apple’s best mobile app in 2011 is far more than your average photo sharing app. Tons of brands – from Starbucks to Burberry to MTV – have discovered the beauty of this app, which focuses on providing good quality photo content rather than pushing products and services down people’s throats.

As with many social platforms, experts encourage Instagram users to post consistently, frequently and to engage followers and users. But what makes Instagram different from the other social platforms is the visual element. This means companies can present content in a fun and creative way – and chances are it will look amazing, too. Even if your product is not visual, chances are you can come up with a related theme that will make having an Instagram account worthwhile.

Instagram itself published some resources for brands to see how they could leverage the platform – including my favorite idea: flash mobs! But if you’re curious for more info on why companies like General Electric (check out some of their featured photos here) and Puma are flocking to Instagram and what kind of content they’re creating, read this.

3. Pinterest

The latest social platform to take over digital headlines is Pinterest. This virtual pinboard platform allows people to organize and share their interests from all over the web in a visual way.  And once again, companies haven’t failed to notice the business potential in Pinterest either.

Companies like Birchbox, Whole Foods and Scholastic have developed beautiful display boards that help to visually communicate their domain of expertise. As one article put it, Pinterest is “visual story telling for brands” that helps to create brand awareness. Brands can use it to communicate about their domain of expertise as well as their company culture, corporate social responsibility and more. In addition, “pinning” good content from the right location can help you drive traffic to your site or other social media properties. Check out this article for a few tips on how to use Pinterest for business – and if you’re still not convinced, check out this fabulous presentation by Nurun’s Gregory Pouy.

Obviously there are tons of other noteworthy social platforms out there too. But these are 3 that are really beginning to make their way to the top. In the next few weeks, we’ll be including more in-depth analysis and tips on how to properly leverage these platforms – and a few others.

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