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It isn’t only your college roommate sending out those 140-character updates. Small and large companies alike find valuable applications for social networking sites. Social networking may target a smaller group of customers, but virtually all of the members of the group are interested in the company in some way.

Small companies with limited marketing budgets love the response they can induce by using Twitter or Facebook. For example, a small bakery sends its daily announcement: “Two new scones: Lemon Blueberry and Chorizo Cheddar! Also, Rainbow cake!” Customers flood to the store, then post their reviews of the new flavors. The resulting buzz includes not just local customers but any of their followers who might be interested in baked goods. The bakery thus has gained 600 Facebook fans and 400 Twitter followers—a huge captive audience for a local entity.

Large companies may have enough funds to mass market through national campaigns, but they still like social networking as a way to stay in personal touch with their customers. Whole Foods, Comcast, JetBlue, American Apparel, and Dell are among the big corporations that actively participate in social networks. They use Twitter, for example, to send quick messages or respond promptly to customer complaints.

Large or small, companies can develop their brand through social networks that depict the company in a certain way, adding a human element that otherwise might not exist. For example, Comcast offers cable and Whole Foods sells healthy food, but their Facebook friends now also realize that Comcast and Whole Foods employ friendly people with whom they might develop a relationship.

Not all social networking communication has positive results though. Social networking eliminates boundaries, which often exposes companies to customers’ true (and sometimes mean) thoughts and behaviors. Furthermore, a poor Tweet could elicit no response or even a negative response from customers. Even mega-companies can feel neglected if no one reads their Twitter posts.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How are retailers using Twitter and Facebook to communicate to their customers?
  2. Why aren’t these social network tools reaching all potential customers?

Liyun Jin, “Business Using Twitter, Facebook to Market Goods,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 21, 2009.

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