With so many social networks out there its sometimes difficult to work out if your small business should be Twitter posting your Facebook Status, re-tweeting someones comment to LinkedIn or just giving up the social network scene altogether.

First and foremost you have to consider the most important questions.

  • Who wants to post to your social network; you as a person or as the company ?
  • What will be the content of your social network?

There is a lot to those very loaded questions and there is a tale of a relatively small business owner starting a blog. He found that people were reading it and one day found that a competitor took exception to an incidental comment published; readers had understood the blog to be representative of the company. The person involved had to close the blog and start afresh as themselves, posting less about the company and more about their interest in the industry.

Having a social network can bring the same problem. If you are going to create a company Facebook page; do you have enough content that you consider relevant and safe without having to name clients, berate suppliers or commit libel against your competitors? Likewise, if you decide to manage a purely personal Facebook social networking account and then always post content about your company then you risk losing what defines you and your company as separate entities and this risks placing limitations on what you can do socially on social network websites.

I have recently offer consultancy with a business owner that want to improve his online presence. The small business will use the owners name as part of the brand image on a small number of service and informational products. The business owner is well known in his field and because he is not a social network user, effective profile management by employees will probably not cause a conflict of interests between personal and business exposure.

In the case of LinkedIn, I would recommend that they do have some input because of the professional focus of the website and the business owners specialism; but the Facebook side is  more consumerised with just the regular postings aimed at amateur and hobbist users of the company.

Let us generalise about the various social networks that are available:

  • The recently floated Facebook is determined to integrate all that is truly social. Corporate contributions to the social networking site encompass every sector of business; from bus companies posting near-realtime service information to the wreslting company WWE managing Facebook accounts for the storylines of some of their wrestlers, everything from a product launch to a competition can be managed on Facebook pages.
  • Twitter is my choice for outbound news services. Although celebrities and companies do answer queries and questions, the sheer number of followers of the popular corporations (or unpopular in the case of complaints) means that in many instances it will be difficult for the likes of John Barrowman (85,000 followers), BBC Radio 2 (65,000 followers) or Lord Alan Sugar (over 2 million users) to answer all the tweets they are likely to receive. There are many news organisations that make good use however, such as BBC Local Radio and Fox News and they can post out breaking news at speed.
  • LinkedIn is the professional social network, but is generally full of job adverts and media moguls who are sure that someone will give them the big "insider" comment to their story. On the plus side, LinkedIn also offers a paid for premium social networking service which allows those who are serious about their profile on the site to get a few more perks befitting a professional service. 
  • MySpace is almost entirely media orientated. It pushes new talent who have uploaded their own material to the website. It's not somewhere I would want to create a profile on, although I do have one on there and have not used it in many years. They are the original, but not all-inclusive social media experience.
  • Google+ is now in its childhood about business exposure. There were a number of businesses who decided that they would start providing a corporate presence on the social network, however these were largely removed prior to the official launch of Google's business exposure. Google have since launched their Google+ Pages though and this has largely been taken with muted concern from the business community that the search engine giant has got it wrong.

    If you are a sole-trader small business, or have a single point of reference for all things online then you may find that being one of the first on Google+ beneficial. There is a distinct lack of requests to give animals to a friend's FarmVille or viral video making the rounds as it has done on Facebook. 

    For the larger corporate with multiple staff contributing to a page it took Google a while to catch on to this and enable multiple managers to contribute and monitor a Google+ Page. On the positive side though this has now been sorted and any page can have up to 50 managers enabled on it. It's not all good though as every single manager has a very broad set of permissions and this might not appeal to Google+ Page owners who want a little more control than "almost everything" or "nothing".

    Google may have almost missed the boat on this one! 

I would not expect a famous face like John Barrowman to have much desire to contribute on a website such as LinkedIn where he would likely find that the bias of the conversations aired towards the business principles of shows that he performs in, whereas he is quite active on his Twitter feed drumming up support for his next performance (Note... He was great as Albin / Zaza in La Cage aux Foilles), likewise I would not to see an in-depth discussion about how to improve Skype connectivity in a radio studio in Facebook, although I have already done so on LinkedIn.

The choice of your business social network is your own. If you are already considering such a presence then you will already know what you want to get out of it, but hopefully you will choose wisely and not fall foul of what you do, or don't say.