A majority of the people I work with are small business owners. One of the most common concerns I hear about revolves around how to manage all of their social media marketing efforts in the most time efficient manner.
My response typically involves explaining the difference between Social Media Marketing and Social Media networking. Both involve relationship building, and both are crucial to business success. However, Social Media Marketing is about helping the business as a whole grow, whereas Social Media networking is more about helping the individual grow.
Focusing on Social Media networking is a great place for small business owners to start. It sets the stage for personal growth, but it can also lead to establishing the individual as a thought leader. So how does an individual make the most of Social Media networking?
Recently, I communicated with a friend of a friend through facebook messaging. She is applying for a position that requires knowledge of social media marketing, and she wanted to know if I had suggestions in how to show the employer that she possesses solid Marketing acumen. I looked for her Linkedin profile and couldn't find her. I then asked if she could forward me the link for her Linkedin profile; she never responded. Additionally, I sent a facebook connect request. She told me that she didn't like to connect with people she didn't know online.
The first step of effective Social Media networking is being accessible. Employers, customers, professional acquaintances - anyone and everyone should be able to see your personal and professional profiles across social media platforms. As a small business owner, you are your business' first and best marketing resource. Chris Brogan & Julien Smith refer to this concept in their collaborative book and now coined phrase, "Trust Agents". Other terms exist as well including "thought leader" and "expert", but what is most important is that this is how others perceive you and not how you should refer to yourself.
Years ago, when I first became actively involved in construction, I started noticing CSI and other initials behind various people's names. As it turned out, being a CSI (Construction Specifications Institute) member was held in high regard by construction industry professionals. Moreover, other certifications one could get through CSI were held in even higher regard because they demonstrated a person's knowledge of the construction industry and a thorough understanding of the construction documents.
I also started seeing that people (including an ex-employer) were paying dues to be able to use the initials but then never participating. Yeah, sure, they might show up at an event or two throughout the year, but they would never volunteer to be on committees or boards.
Social Media, like industry specific groups, isn't just about connections; it's about how you engage with other social media participants. With social media, the old adage, "if you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem" holds true. If you only have social media profiles because everyone does, then you're only creating online clutter. Why would anyone want to connect with someone who only wants to friend, circle, or follow other people to build up their contact list but then not engage on any level?
There are various ways to actively participate online: posting questions and articles that you think others might glean knowledge from, joining groups and giving insightful perspectives, writing white papers / technical papers for your industry and sharing them, and blogging are all great ways to stay engaged and involved.
Whenever I connect or am asked to connect with a person on one social media platform, I always cross reference their name across other platforms. There are several reasons to cross reference, not the least of which is determining if they are spammers or a real person or business entity. I also do it to see how innovative they are. Lately, my measurement tool has been Google+, the largest, newest social media platform. If a person is on facebook but not Google+ and they claim to be a progressive thinker, I have to wonder if they're being truthful.
Not all social media platforms function the same way or serve the participants in the same ways, but all of them can be used to build meaningful relationships. Additionally, there's no reason you can't have business messages on facebook and playful banter on Linkedin. And now, with smartphones and tablets, there's definitely no reason that concise communications can't be achieved through instant messaging on social media platforms as opposed to, say, emails.
Connecting across the social media universe is a rewarding and life-enriching experience. It has become just as important as networking face-to-face; not more important, just another great step to successful relationships. Whether you're a student looking to learn from a business professional in your field of study, a product representative looking to connect with an architect across the country, or a follower of a blog from someone on the other side of the world, online connections set new bearings for relationships.