The plan by Facebook to license its architectural platform to other social networking sites will boost the ability of SMBs to compete in the global market, according to Canadian online marketing specialists.

The company already encourages developers to build applications that work on its site. However, the Facebook Developers Blog recently reported that the social networking site now intends to license to other sites publishing details of its tags and APIs (application programming interfaces). The move has the potential of creating a common platform for applications – developer will need to write programs for their widgets or small applications only once to enable it to function in other sites.

“Essentially this will allow developers to export the Facebook experience to other social networking sites,” said Colin Smillie, managing partner of RefreshPartners, a Toronto-based marketing firm specializing in the use of social media.

This means SMBs can now cheaply market goods and services to customers in various parts of the world where Facebook might not be the dominant social networking site, he said.

Another online marketing expert agrees.

“This development will level the playing field for SMBs and provide greater access to larger distribution channels,” said Mitch Joel, president of Twist Image a marketing and communications strategy firm in Montreal.

Most small and medium scale enterprises have latched onto the so-called viral effect social media to spread the word about their products and services, he said.

Unlike other static marketing tools such as traditional media or even e-mail, online social networks allow advertisers to create a “community” around their online presence, interact with consumers and find out more information about their target market. The medium, however, has its challenges.

Developing traction and reputation and the online arena can take tremendous effort and time. Furthermore, while Facebook boast of more than 34 million regular users and about 15 billion page views per month, it’s not the only marketer’s candy store in the Web 2.0 world, Smillie said.

He said Facebook is hugely popular in the United Kingdom and Canada, but MySpace still rules in the U.S., while GoogleSocial is the hot social network in Latin America, and Hi5 is Asia’s online hub of choice.

Among the advantages of Facebook is that external developers have so far created more than 7,000 applications on the site. These widgets fosters myriad activities which in most instances can be used for marketing and advertising purposes. “You don’t get this kind of interaction in MySpace,” said Smillie.

He said social networks and online communities are ideal marketing places for SMBs that have limited budgets. For instance, a lot of Canada-based artisans and artists as well as tech professionals and consultants are marketing their creations and services in Facebook.

With licensed Facebook standards, companies can more readily offer Facebook type applications to users of other sites or develop their own site for a more targeted marketing approach.

One such site is Bebo a social media network where members share online life experiences, music, videos and other forms of entertainment. The site said it will use Facebook standards for its own Open Application Platform.

Smillie of RefreshPartners and Joel of Twist Image said SMBs can follow these simple online social networking strategies to improve business:

Monitor the industry

There are various online sites and tools that enable marketers to gauge consumer temperament. For instance, Joel often visits Technorati a blog site that bills itself as the “recognized authority on what’s happening on the World Live Web, right now.”

Find out what people are saying about you

Do a search on yourself, Google your own company, product or service to learn who’s talking about you and what are they saying. This knowledge can help determine future marketing campaigns.

Add you own voice to the discussion

One of the best ways to get noticed in your industry is to let people know what you have to say. Joel suggests, joining an industry forum, blogging or commenting on a blog. He goes to del.icio.us a social book marking site to find out what topics people are reading about.

Use apps to generate interest

Take advantage of simple but engaging applications such as videos that enable customers to view your product and see how they work. Use entertaining or useful widgets such as weather, news and celebrity gossip feeds or games to advertise your product. The idea is to be viral -something that people with tell and encourage their friends to try out.

Find out more about your customers

Traditional Web marketing can provide you with customer address, but social networks can provide you a window to your customers’ tastes, interest, demographic information and other vital data. This is indispensable fodder for targeted marketing.

Update your clients

Provide customers with regular updates about new products, services or promotions. The idea is to develop a relationship, to show customers you care about them and their needs.

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