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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

NET-TECH REPORT: Online and Social Networking – Productive for Business or a Waste of Time?

Net-Tech Report with Chris Kauza

I've been asked this question many times over the last few years, and people generally seem to fall into one of these two positions. Very seldom is there a middle ground. If the individual happens to spend a lot of time online, and are at least slightly familiar with some of the various social media tools out there (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), then they tend to be proponents of online networking. Those who are more “traditionalists” and spend most of their time in offline networking, tend to discount the online approaches. And the fact that my 60+ year old librarian neighbor is on Twitter indicates that some of the more "traditional" metrics are no longer the right ones to use..

The crux of the question, however, lies not in the
tool but rather in the purpose and approach used in networking.

Effective networking relies more on the purpose and approach than any specific tool. In my experience, effective networking comes down to these three characteristics:

  1. Be authentic. This means different things to different people. Indeed, different social networking sites and forums will have different “norms” and rules for usage. But, “be yourself, warts and all” is generally accepted behavior. You will find that you attract people into your network sphere of influence who appreciate what you are offering, and will most likely contribute something you see of value, back to you.
  2. Build it before you “need” it. Quite simply, many people are using online networking tools to hawk their wares. And while that is certainly a legitimate use for the platform, I don't think one should look at it as simply another platform extension of your Sales and Marketing functions.
  3. Be like St. Francis (seek first to understand, then be understood; seek first to give, then to receive). And in this instance, tools like Twitter can be very useful. Suddenly, the Tweet “I just had the BEST cheeseburger for lunch!” gains some relevance, in that you can more of a personal perspective on someone, or even “some-thing” if you're following a company's brand.

Where things really start to become interesting when you look at a person's interactions in the Web 2.0 space (loosely defined as “Internet content generated by a user”, and would contain things like blogs, forum postings, online networking activity, etc.). Almost all of this content is or will be readily searchable and accessible. This begins to establish a person's “digital footprint” (because once you publish it online, it's on a server “somewhere”). Thus, not only can you establish credibility in a certain subject or set of subjects (this is what most people refer to as “relevance” or “credibility” in a subject area), but one simultaneously builds “reach”. As both grows, individuals and companies establish areas where their words and actions either inhibit or reinforce their brand.

In answer to my opening question, I don't think it is a waste of time, although a lot of time can be dedicated to it, so each individual and company needs to manage it's time and money investment against the return they are getting (or not), using metrics unique to their specific situation.

Productive for business? I think it is, although if it's not managed properly it can be destructive for business.

As with any investment, businesses and business people need to be deliberate in their networking efforts – both online and off – in order to see a good return and feel the effort and expense are justified.

Posted to THE NATIONAL NETWORKER (TNNW). All rights reserved.

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1 comment:

Ann Barczay Sloan said...

Good discussion -- reassuring! Bottom line , if one enjoys doing a certain something, can that really be considered waste of time?
Ann Sloan

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