A family member recently asked me over dinner what I thought about using social networking sites to help promote her business. We spend dinner going over my thoughts, a how to road map, and what I thought were the pluses and minuses. She was greatly appreciative of the advice and suggested I should write a book on the subject given all my experience having run a social networking site for anglers since the early 1990’s. First, I got excited about the book idea, but the more I thought about it, it seemed to make tmore sense to write about it in my blog. (Maybe that is the evolution of my generation’s line of thinking, but the publishing cost sure is cheaper.) Hopefully this topic, as well as the topic of search which I’ve written about, will become a common theme and in essence make up what becomes an online blog book.
Quick Background on Social Networking
I always laugh a little when I hear the term “social networking” and people refer to it as if it is something new. Back in the early days of the internet we called it “community”. The networking part of it all took place on bulletin boards, people had profiles and we all interacted in a community type setting, a screen with a list of topics and responses. When you wanted to learn more about something you clicked on his/her name and read what he/she had in their profile. The profiles were nowhere as sophisticated as what we have on social networking sites now, but it sufficed to get to know more about the person. In the new age of social networking, forums, or message boards as they are sometimes called, are still a way in which people interact in the online world, but sites like MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a host of other sites have expanded the profile fields so now you can tell everyone everything you want down to what food you feed our dog and made it easy to post updates, ask questions and interact with fellow friends, family, alumni and colleagues. The tools are also a lot easier, no longer do you need to be a geek and know HTML code, as long as you know how to use your mouse and keyboard, and even your cell phone device, you’re a publisher/networker.
Social Networking your Company/ Business
The first question one needs to answer when thinking about how to use social networking sites to promote his/her business is, “What do you want to accomplish by engaging the audience?”. Do you want to generate leads? Do you want to stay connected with current customers to make them feel closer? Do you want to sell your product? Do you want to expand brand awareness? Do you want to generate PR? You need to answer the “what do you want to accomplish” question before you start. With out that answer it’s hard to build an execution plan.
The next question is how much time are you willing to devote or how much time do you have to give towards the effort? Can you give it 15 minutes a day or only 15 minutes a week? Will you be doing the updating, will another person in your company be doing it, or will you share the responsibility? One thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that you will only get out of it what you put into it. Social networking is not magic, you do not just post your profile and all the sudden you are “social networking”. Anyone that suggests that is the case to you please refer them to me, I want to learn the magic because in over fifteen years of doing it I never found it to be a build it and they will come. It’s a build it and nurture it, plant some flowers, shrubs and trees, keep them watered and mulch each season to keep the soil moist and futile, then add some new flowers from time to time.
I’ll add one suggestion to help you answer the “who will be doing the updating” question. It’s my experience that you need to be authentic, if you’re authentic people will follow and listen to your updates. If you come off as “corporate” or not personal, it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy great success unless you already have demand for your product and you’re offering discounts and things. But, if you’re building your business people want authentic. Let me give you an example. Another family member of mine started using social networking about two years ago when I suggested it. At first he wanted to build a “company” profile and build it from there. I saw what he was doing and strongly suggested that he open a site as himself, put some of his personal information in there and be Matt (substituted name to protect the innocent) from His Company Name. Then people would get to know him, trust him as and expert and then port the “expert” status over to his company. It’s hard to do it the other way unless your IBM, Microsoft or some other large institution. He’s enjoyed a great amount of success with this approach and has gotten many leads that have already led to signed deals. Let me give you one other example, Zappos has a Twitter profile and while that is popular, what is more popular is Tony Hsieh Twitter account. Tony is the CEO of Zappos, he is Zappos and Zappos is him, people want to hear from other people, not entities. Getting Tony’s Twitter updates makes him and the company feel personal because you can read and feel a person behind the name.
I think that is enough food for thought for now, digest it and in the next installment, assuming you have the answer’s to all the above, we’ll cover is, “What social networking site should I use? Should I use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or another?