Social networking sites not just fun and games
Business increasingly turns to online networking communities
Social networking sites are the fastest-growing part of the Internet – and business networking is one of the medium’s fastest-growing applications. As the Network of Executive Women prepares to launch its own social networking tools later this year, it’s a good time to review what role social networking can – and cannot – play in your business and career.
“Social networking works on the six degrees of separation principle,” says Michael Carrillo, president of industry recruiting firm CPGjobs. “If you know 250 people, and each of them knows 250 people, you’re just one step away from 62,500 people. That’s a huge upside potential for you and your business.”
Carrillo notes that social networking has expanded from its youth-oriented, techie roots into a pervasive communications tool used by millions of people each month. Business-oriented LinkedIn receives 28 million monthly visitors, while personal networking site Facebook logs 70 million monthly visitors. The biggest social networking site, MySpace, attracts 117 million visitors per month. There are more than 48 business networking sites, with more launching all the time. And that doesn’t even count special function sites like YouTube, Twitter and Flickr.
Social networking is a powerful tool to maintain and expand your business contacts. Not only can you can use sites like LinkedIn to stay in touch with former colleagues and meet new contacts, you can create special groups around particular interests. CPGjobs started the LinkedIn group CPGpeople last year and it already has 5,000 industry members. The group serves as a virtual town square, allowing its members to start discussions, post messages, and introduce one another. A similar, albeit smaller group, was established after last year’s NEW Executive Leaders Forum to help attendees stay in touch.
Many if not most all business people participating in online communities make a distinction between their business and social networking. What’s appropriate for your MySpace page may not be appropriate for your LinkedIn page (or your online corporate or industry community). Some content is not appropriate at all. Revealing photos, uninhibited profiles and explicit comments are just as accessible to an employer or recruiter as they are to your intended audience.
The implications of social networking go beyond the personal. “Media today is no longer about ‘elites’ -- professional media, marketing departments of companies -- pumping out information and sales pitches while the masses listen in,” reports the Enthusiast Group. “For both companies and publishers, social networking and social media represent a promising new line of business. If your organization can get its customers or members to interact with each other -- and with your brand-- online on a regular basis, you’re looking at a potentially large increase in web traffic for your brand.”
Brands have begun building social networks to connect people interested in their products. Scissors manufacturer Fiskars created a website called Fiskateers aimed at scrap bookers, a key customer base. The site has Fiskateer ambassadors, who serve as community leaders, bloggers and scrapbooking “cheerleaders.” Anyone who joins the site can share their scrapbooking projects online; read the ambassadors’ blogs and comments; participate in discussion forums; make friends with other members; and learn about upcoming scrapbooking events. These tools – user-generated content, profiles, messaging, blogging and network building — are common to most social networking sites.
Social networks can be a powerful customer relationship management tool, but there are rules. Experts agree on the importance of transparency. Never impersonate a member of a community to promote your product. If you are hosting a community, you should acknowledge that you are an employee or contractor working for the company.
You should also be prepared to hear what customers really think, good and bad. “If you require so much control over your online presence that you can’t stomach the occasional negative comment, then you’re probably not ready for the transition to social networking and conversational marketing and media,” says the Enthusiast Group.
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