I never ventured into the social networking world until Facebook reeled me in. It was unavoidable, a requirement for one of my graduate school classes on social media. I slowly dipped my foot into the water, but slowly and surely, I got in deeper and deeper.
It felt like such a revelation when I realized I could reconnect with friends across the country and friends that I had not seen since high school. Before long, I realized I had joined the legions of people who loved Facebook. Granted, I wasn’t ready to go out and declare my newfound passion by wearing a t-shirt,but I felt like a better correspondent and more in touch with my friends.
For me, part of the appeal lies in the origins of the company. It is a story that has likely become equal parts factual legend and myth. A Baltimore Sun article about writer Ben Mezrich’s take on Facebook’s founding in the book “Accidental Billionaires” suggests that he takes artistic license in some scenes. Regardless, everyone agrees that founder Mark Zuckerberg started the social networking site out of his dorm room in Harvard. As the site grows, Zuckerberg has great idealistic plans for what Facebook could become. He is quoted in Fortune as telling a German audience:
“We think that if you can build one worldwide platform where you can just type in anyone’s name, find the person you’re looking for, and communicate with them,” he told a German audience in January, “that’s a really valuable system to be building.”
But other social networking sites such as Orkut could slow Zuckerberg’s worldwide plans. Orkut, a Google–owned utility, has its largest audience in Brazil with more than 20 million users . Google has even made the country the center of its Orkut operations. Despite starting in the U.S., Orkut quickly gained a foothold in Brazil and by 2004, Brazilians outnumbered Americans 2-to-1, leading to tension among the users. But how Orkut became the social networking choice of Brazilians is a point of disagreement among bloggers with thoughts ranging from the name sounding like a popular yogurt drink to a much more rational explanation of simple timing and its early invitation-only feature.
Facebook has made some in-roads in Brazil, now touting more than one million users and growing. Numbers doubled in May alone, according to InsideFacebook.com.Still, Orkut reigns supreme and companies looking to break into the Brazilian market should take note.
Connected Brazilians enjoy spending time online, according to the State of the Media Democracy study by Deloitte. The study polled people online from Brazil, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States and found:
“The most eye-opening comparison came from Brazil — where consumers spend approximately 9.8 hours a week watching television but almost double that — 19.3 hours a week — pursuing personal/social interests online.”
All too often companies throw up their profile on social networking sites and think that will drive business and buzz. They couldn’t be more wrong. Companies should carefully consider the brand implications and the necessary requirements for success before even starting. After my own research, these are tips for Orkut (with some borrowing from Facebook tips that apply) that I think companies should follow:
1. Consider whether you want to be on Orkut. A search of major brands on Orkut results in many unofficial fan pages. Ask yourself: is. it worthwhile to join in the conversation to hear what my customers are saying? Will I find an audience? Do I have the time to devote to this venture?
2. Before committing, make sure your target audience is on Orkut. If you’re trying to reach a targeted audience, you may even want to consider putting only one of your products on Orkut, not the whole brand.
3. Speak the local language. Do not go into a Brazilian market speaking English. Most American-born brands have an entirely different approach and language when marketing in other countries. Follow the same rules.
4. Choose your image wisely. This is the “face” you will be showing to the online world. Is it the best representation of your brand?
5. Be complete. Don’t skip on your profile. You may not consider it worth your time to give such details, but your customers will appreciate it.
6. Reach out to your existing fans. There’s no denying they’re out there and they’ve likely used your logo and link to your site, but shutting it down or ignoring it could do more harm than good. Make them your friends.
7. Join Communities associated with your product or with your industry. Rather than wait for them to come to you, find them first.
8. Answer questions, start conversations. Get Orkut users to turn to you for expert advice, suggestions, and information by participating on your site and in communities.
9. Respond promptly. If a friend contacts you, acknowledge and answer soon. Nothing is worse than having your customer send a scrap or a testimonial and ignore it.
10. Reach out, make new friends. Connect with people online and build your audience base. By friending people, you could become friends with their friends.
11. Keep active. There may not be news to report or advice to give, but you should still find a way to stay active on Orkut by sending messages or visiting communities or posing questions. Your activity will be seen as interest and that will make your brand stronger.
12. Don’t shy away from your critics. There will likely be negative communities out there. There is nothing wrong with correcting incorrect information or offering to solve a customer service issues that they might have had. Sooner or later, your critics may even find your profile. Respond appropriately because ignoring them will not make them go away. But realize, at the same time, that some people may never like your brand.