Google is re-entering the social network arena with Google Plus. Although it’s not yet available to everyone, the trial phase has exceeded even the company’s own grand expectations. Facebook’s users continue to grow, LinkedIn had a very successful public stock offering. Twitter usage continues to climb and there are dozens if not hundreds of other smaller players in the social media game, with more entering every day. In addition, there are companies whose business model is based on usage of other networks. Hootsuite, for example, allows you to post to a number of different social media sites at once. Other companies offer services that include data mining, people finding, industry searches and more.
For the small business owner or independent service professional, it can all be a bit overwhelming. At what point does it all just become noise? The number and variety of social networking sites is likely to continue to grow exponentially. How do you keep up with it all?
First of all, don’t panic. You don’t have to keep up with it all. When you go to an all you can eat buffet, and there are 17 different entrees, you’re not required to eat them all. Focus on what interests you and build from there.
Second, if you’re using social networking sites for networking, just rely on the same principals that apply to any form of networking. Networking groups, whether live and in person, or on the web, are places to make and maintain contacts, which may lead to very productive business relationships or may not. A networking group or site can be viewed as a relationship farm. The productive fruits of your labor should be harvested and stored for best results.
Social networking sites are really shared databases on steroids. People enter information into the database which can be shared with everyone or with a select group. You can make use of that database to create a personal database of your own, with just a simple spreadsheet or add more detail to your email contacts list. For efficient target marketing purposes, you don’t want to store information about everyone on your Friend, or Contact, or Followers lists; only those that you actually do business with or have a high likelihood of doing business with. You decide what information is important. For example, I’ve added keywords in the notes section in which I enter the product or products that customer orders most often. That way, if I’m having a special on a particular product, I can search for those who are most likely to take advantage of it, rather than spending time and/or money promoting a product to someone who hasn’t ordered any of it in the 10 years we’ve been doing business.
I’ve only started updating my own database recently. it occurred to me that trying to stay in touch with my core customers through a half dozen different online networks, on which only a small fraction of my connections are ever going to see any particular post, is probably not the most efficient way to make use of the media. It’s interesting and fun, but how do I put it to good use? Social networks can help you add more useful information to your business databases, such as birthdays, interests, hobbies or anything that might help you target a particular marketing campaign more effectively.
All this great software and these communications tools are offered “free” because the companies behind them resell your viewing time in the form of advertising and your personal information in the form of market research and targeted databases. Why not make the relationship reciprocal? Be a consumer of the information as well as a contributor. Use it as much or as little as you want, how you want, on your schedule and on your terms. Take what you need and don’t worry about the rest. When you walk into a real life networking event and there are dozens of conversations going on at once, you don’t try to participate in all of them. You engage in one at a time and make the most of it. You can run around and hand out a business card to everyone, or you can take the time to get to know a handful of people a little better. Which do you think will benefit you more in the long run?
Social networking doesn’t have to be a Tower of Babel. It can be more like a mall full of coffee shops. Visit the ones you want, try a new one or frequent a favorite one. Meet someone new or catch up with an old friend and try to make the experience productive, whether you’re working on a business or personal relationship (they often overlap). In any case, always remember, you’re in charge. What you put into it and what you get out of it is entirely up to you.