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Social Networking - Is a Web Site Enough?
by William Szczepanek

Article 17: October 16, 2008

If you travel across the country or around the world you certainly don’t expect to be able to network with everyone, but you can connect to the world through social networking on the Web.  Social networking is not new.  In fact, it’s been around for centuries, but it has largely been related to relationships acquired through actual face-to-face meetings. Social networking on the Internet now affects everyone.

Does Your Small Business Really Need a Social Media Strategy?

You just finished getting your new website up and running, and now you are waiting for visitors.  You talked with your Web designer and set up your site with all the right Search Engine Optimization techniques. Your URL is registered with Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. You have gotten your site listed on numerous directories. You rank pretty high with regard to your business and location, but you still don’t get many calls.  What do you do next?

“But, I have a business to run!!!” you scream.

Networking has been touted as the most important aspect of getting a job or getting business for many years.  It’s who you know, not what you know, though I do think that intelligence is underrated.  Now you are expected to not only rub elbows at mixers, but also massage your messages in emails and blog posts in order to get links.

You know ― multitasking ― that required skill in the workforce today that enables you to be more productive.  I think that if most people could do one thing at a time and do it well we would all be better off, particularly if we ride on passenger trains, fly in airplanes or drive cars. But, the world is a fast-paced place now.

However, the answer to all of these questions is the usual ― it depends. In general, it does appear that a certain amount of social networking is required to improve your site’s exposure or to get you in front of people who might need your products or services.  Though, just because you write a blog doesn’t mean that someone will read it; and just because someone reads your blog doesn’t necessarily mean they will like you.  It depends.  If your words help them, then they may remember you and contact you for something in the future. If 100 people read your words, maybe one will contact you. Maybe.

Do You Have the Time to Network?

There is much good and bad in social networking today.  When it is used to find contacts that can help with your work and ultimately save you time, then it is good.  When it gets you more clients at less cost than traditional advertising then it is good.  But, abuse of social networking is common.  It can be likened to standing around the water cooler and talking about yesterday’s big game.  A few minutes of this kind of discourse every day probably improves rapport with coworkers.  A few hours of this on the Internet is probably a waste of time.  Companies are restricting this type of access more and more.  If you run your own business you need to manage this time.  It can be very helpful, however, to find out what people are saying about you.  Then, you can do something about it. 

All of these forms of social networking are methods of getting people to visit your site, hear your message, see your business or help you with a question.  They are kind of like billboards that tell people your site or business exists, like “Eat at Joe’s, go to www.joe.com. (This is a real website that has nothing to do with what we’re talking about.  Now, having this link in this article could possibly help the Joe site, but probably not, because it is unlikely that if you are interested in this site you would also be interested in Red-Cockaded woodpeckers in Florida.)

That’s the secret, though.  You need to do social networking that will work for you.  If you can’t write well, avoid writing blogs, but you may want to post a comment on a blog that can bring links to you.  You need to be careful because most people don’t like someone else commenting on their blog, “Hey, visit my site instead.”   Join social groups with people and organizations that are similar to yours.  Don’t join so many that you can’t follow up regularly.  If one network doesn’t work after a good while then you might consider abandoning it to try something else, though I do know of people who finally made contact with someone else interested in their business after hundreds of posts.

This form of communication is often favored by introverts, who find it uncomfortable and sometimes painful to go to mixers and other social events, but who feel good about taking the time to put their thoughts down, and then editing them before making a post. Finally, there is a way for introverts and extroverts to better understand each other and help each other. Though many others are not so inhibited and will post just about anything on the Internet, they often regret it over time, even though it seems so right at the time.

Time Management

Create a schedule and stick to it.  Set aside a certain amount of time each day to network.  When time is up, then stop and get back to your other work, even if that video is enticing. Determine where your efforts are paying off and focus on meeting the people who you can help and who can help you. Keep to your business purpose. This part is harder for extraverts, who feel compelled to keep connecting, even after the connecting has been accomplished. One very effective method for following blog posts is to set an RSS feed to that site, then you will be notified when something new is written and you won't waste time checking unnecessarily.  Social networking can be done efficiently.    

Can You Afford Not to be Connected?

Many large companies or individuals with clout have entire staffs dedicated to getting their message on the net through social networks.  You can hesitate for awhile, but eventually you will need to get involved with some social networking to compete effectively. MySpace and Facebook are very broad with millions of users.  These are multi-billion dollar industries that are still figuring out how to make a profit. One problem is that these big Web sites attract many people who have dissimilar interests. Social Web sites must be tailored for their own customers and their niche interests.  The key is to find the right social networking environment for what you want to accomplish.  If it isn’t out there yet it will be soon, as many social network companies build sites for their own particular interest. Estimates indicate that there will be as many as 250,000 social network sites within a year, compared with about 1,000 today.

Part of the current difficulty in managing a number of social networks is keeping track of the profiles and passwords.  There has been some progress in getting profiles to be shared across platforms, but there is also the problem that sometimes different profiles are required for different types of work or interests that engage different people.

Ghost Writers

Many companies and busy professionals hire writers to maintain their blogs, develop Squidoo content and essentially handle their Public Relations, However, Social Networking tools like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook require you to be the one in contact with the world. You will lose the trust of your readers if you cheat in this area; and, in reality, only you can talk about yourself in the way you want it to be heard.

Get something going before it’s too late, but go slowly at first.  It is very easy to get sucked into more than you can handle. It’s not clear yet whether anyone’s initial foray into social networking will pay off, but if your competition has already started and the payoff happens, you may be left behind. Rather than seeking followers, trying to be viral or attempting to find friends, you may be better off establishing trust, teaching others what you have learned and leading others in responsible change.

The only constant is change; and change is happening constantly.