January’s Entrepreneur Magazine offered these six tips on using free on-line tools:
Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to use it. “Because there’s so much out there, businesses have a tendency to be like a kid in a candy store,” says Drew McLellan. “Start with the strategy of what you want to accomplish, and then find the tool that will allow you to do that.”
Adds Mike Whaling, “It’s a matter of figuring out which tools are right for your business. Know your audience, and then go to where they are already having conversations.”
You don’t have to figure it all out by yourself. McLellan suggests doing a simple Google search on a tool or task you want to accomplish. “You’ll find people talking about it,” he says. “And people are incredibly quick to share what they know.”
Don’t lose your company’s brand. Using a variety of tools can lead to an inconsistent company image and voice. Says McLellan, “Run it through the litmus test of â€˜Is this right for my business? Does it portray my business the way I want?'” Whaling also emphasizes thinking about what your business’s name will be associated with because many free tools are ad-supported.
Push your preconceived notions aside. MySpace and Facebook aren’t just for the kiddies anymore. Says McLellan, “There are a lot of people conducting business on [these sites].”
Does the tool have staying power? For every successful blog, video website or social network, there are dozens that won’t make it. So, again, talk with people online and discuss their experiences with the tool to gauge its stability and reliability.
It may be free, but you still need to invest. Just creating a profile won’t cut it. Making the most of these tools requires time and effort, says Whaling. “There’s an investment in reading other people’s blogs, commenting on posts, getting involved in the community and building relationships.”