Presidential debates notwithstanding, the truth is you don't need a lot of wind to build a fan base online. Just ask the folks at Game Layers, a start-up videogame maker in San Francisco.
All of 15 months old, Game Layers already boasts a roster of 1,225 people who subscribe to regular updates from the company — as long as it can crank out those messages in 140 characters or less.
Enter Twitter, a microblogging outfit that allows small businesses to get the word out about their work, albeit in teeny chunks. Do it right and those mini-posts can attract scores of followers.
Game Layers "tweets" its fans about upcoming game features and versions, and also asks for customer feedback. Each Twitter update includes a link back to the Game Layers homepage, further establishing the company's brand.
"We hope to keep our community updated in a faster and less intensive way than [by] e-mail," says Merci Victoria Grace, the company's chief creative officer. "We've seen immediate results."
For entrepreneurs in the Internet age, survival (let alone success) depends on being able to marshal the latest technology to the cause — and social networking is a huge one.
That's why, with help from the smart folks at technology publisher O'Reilly Media, we've assembled a glossary of social-networking terms every entrepreneur should know. And for all the techno-jargon that gets tossed around, rest assured you don't have to be a member of the Geek Squad to fathom the implications these issues have for strategy and budgeting.
By now, everyone knows that social networking connects communities of people with common interests online. The formats run the gamut, from full-blown profile-oriented sites like Facebook and MySpace with tens of millions of users, to niche blogs and forums.
For many entrepreneurs, Facebook is more than a way to keep up with long-lost high school buddies — it's a marketing tool as well. The site not only offers instant messaging and other nearly instantaneous digital communication between friends, it also lets users create groups and pages to which others can sign up as fans.
The viral effect is powerful: Say a gamer joins the Game Layers "PMOG" group (for Passively Multiplayer Online Game). Anyone whom that person has dubbed a "friend" on Facebook receives a message on their Facebook homepage, announcing that the person has joined a new group. They, in turn, join the group, too, and the ripples keep spreading. Game Layers' Facebook group now has 1,736 members.
Melissa Gira Grant not only knows a thing or two about social networks, she's starting one of her own. Its home is a site called Boffery; the common narcissistic thread: folks who have slept together.
Boffery hasn't launched yet (it's in testing now), but that hasn't stopped Grant and co-founder Nick Douglas (of tech gossip Vallywag.com fame) from setting up both a Twitter account and a Tumblr blog devoted to the site. Tumblr blogs — set up at Tumblr.com — are quick and easy to start, though they lack more elaborate functionality. Says Grant, "Our goal is to have a strong community already gathered when we launch."
Still, Grant warns, using social networks as a marketing tool may not be right for every business.
"Just getting on Twitter [because you think you have to] won't matter if your customers don't already have a relationship with Twitter," she says. "If I were addressing an entrepreneur, I'd ask, 'Where is your base?'"
The same goes for Second Life, an alternative digital world much like an interactive video game, where the likes of Sears and Dell have been known to set up virtual shop to attract a younger, more wired demographic.
Freelance radio journalist Cyrus Farivar saves valuable time by bringing the power of many social networking tools to bear at once. To help him stay in touch with his readership while working from Lyon, France, Farivar took all of 10 minutes to set up a Twitter account, which blasts a post every time he writes a blog entry; the same goes for his Facebook page. Better yet, he avoids filling up his readers' e-mail boxes, spam-style.
Farivar also keeps a profile on LinkedIn, the Facebook for business professionals, now with more than 24 million users.
As for receiving myriad updates from the networked masses, Farivar relies on RSS feeds — lists of posts from across the Web. RSS "readers" aggregate all those messages in one place in real time, so Farivar doesn't have to check umpteen Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. "To me," he says, "anything without RSS is invisible."
In the end, that's what social networking is all about: efficiency. "It’s not something I've put a lot of time into," says Farivar. "I figure another avenue [for] people finding me can't hurt." But not networking sure would.