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Using social networks to your advantage

The Internet is an invaluable tool for small and medium businesses alike. For very little or no money, the web and its social networking platforms provide entrepreneurs with access to an international market.

The Internet is not only affordable, but is an extremely effective means of understanding, catering for, and reaching potential customers. Lauren Luke, 26, is just one of the many entrepreneurs who owes her success to Internet social media.

Lauren gained fame and fortune when she began uploading her makeup tutorials onto You Tube. Since then, nearly 8,000,000 people have tuned in to watch her videos showing viewers how to recreate celebrity-inspired looks.

Lauren was born in South Shields and had a baby at 16. Against some difficult odds, she has risen to become an outright Internet success story, and the second most popular You Tube user ever in the UK.

Last year, Lauren became one of the first users to be invited onto the You Tube Partnership Program. She now receives sponsorship from big-brand makeup companies, has an agent and has launched her own line of makeup- and she even has a regular column in the magazine supplement for The Observer.

Before her explosion onto the social media scene, Lauren’s lack of confidence meant she had few friends and no one to whom she could impart her skills. You Tube was a perfect platform on which to gain her a massive audience.

Like Lauren, Heather Gorringe, the Global Dell Award Winner 2008, has used the power of social media to reach millions of people and to expand her gardening company, Wiggly Wigglers. She set up her Internet business in a village with a population of 63. Now, the company turns over millions of pounds each year. On Radio Four’s Women’s Hour, Heather claimed:  ‘Without the internet, we wouldn’t even exist’. Her ‘Wiggly Community’ involves podcasts, e-news, videos and a Facebook group.

Accessibility. Usability.

Part of the reason both Lauren and Heather are succeeding is surely due to the accessibility and usability of the technology out there. In her interview for Women’s hour, Heather claimed that, despite her Internet presence, she is still a technological clutz. ‘It’s easy’, says Heather, ‘so easy even I can do it.’

Similarly, Lauren started out with no technical background whatsoever. It was her propensity for entrepreneurship that was the real factor that facilitated Internet success. Her tutorials sprouted from her time trading on Ebay, where she demonstrated her products with videos. The response was positive and, from there, the idea evolved.

‘Conversations are markets and markets are conversations’ – Heather Gorringe, Wiggly Wigglers

Heather and LJ Rich, a reporter of the BBC’s flagship technology program, concur that entrepreneurs achieve internet-success by interacting with their customers. Whatever your product or service, the Internet can help you understand your market so that you can better cater for it. Heather comments: ‘It’s about listening before joining in.’

By showing interest, you generate interest.

The Internet is one of the most effective ways of understanding a rapidly evolving market, and negotiating your place within it. Part of Lauren Luke’s appeal is the way she approaches and engages with her audience on a human level.

The tutorials themselves are a small part of the ‘Lauren Experience’. Her videos are filmed in the most personal space possible, her bedroom, and are unedited. In a video-feature for the BBC, Lauren said: ‘If there are mistakes, you’re going to see them’.

Heather’s videos are similarly unpolished. Her behind-the-scenes appearances are unaffected and send a clear message of sincerity and approachability to potential customers.

The end of the commercial monologue?

Lauren and Heather have raised their Internet profiles to such high levels by engaging with their audiences and adapting their service accordingly. Social networking platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and You Tube are typical of a cyber marketplace, where sharing information is key.

‘If the Internet’s a giant jumble sale, how do you make your stall more attractive than everybody else’s?’ LJ Rich

LJ Rich urges entrepreneurs to ask themselves: ‘What can I give that other people will be interested in?’ Twitter is a perfect means of engaging with the public, because the format mirrors the informal exchange of ideas that we see in conversation.

It is important not to undermine the power of the Internet as a networking tool and a means of raising your Internet profile. The strength of your brand is what will make you stand out in a competitive market and bring you bigger profits.

Suggestion: Test the strength of your Internet Presence by ‘ego-surfing’, that means googling the name of your business. Where do you rank? If your business is way down the list, it’s time to raise your web-presence and get networking! Twitter away!!

Watch Lauren Luke’s video feature for the BBC here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxy-TxCXH6Y – BBC
Listen to ‘Women entrepreneurs making money online’ here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/03/2009_20_thu.shtml

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About Alexa Vargas

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