Social Networking – Can Your Company Afford Not to Engage?

Twitter. Facebook. YouTube. If I said these words to you years ago you would have looked at me like I was crazy! The aforementioned are websites used to fuel the social networking phenomenon. In case you are not aware of how social networking sites function, people use these sites to form associations with others that share the same personal or professional interests. Millions of people are using these sites to keep in touch with their families and friends.

Now companies are jumping on the bandwagon and incorporating social networking sites into their marketing campaigns. Although, social networking is relatively new, it is gaining status as a new way for companies to effectively market their products and services because of the following:  

  •   Interactive
  •   Cost effective
  •   Ability to market 24/7

Interactive
The main purpose of a marketing campaign is to promote your product or service to your target market. What better way to reach your target market than on their own turf? Years ago the typical marketing campaign would have consisted of direct mail, print advertising, and if you could afford it TV or radio ads. One thing all of the aforementioned mediums fail to do is to encourage participation.

Social networking sites enable you to instantaneously connect with your target market and receive feedback regarding your product and service. Regardless of what social networking site your company decides to join, all of them will enable you to foster a closer relationship with your customers-the degree in which this is accomplished rests solely upon your company. Consumers are already doing what they intended to do on these-connect with family and friends-you (companies) are the new kid on the block so it is up to you how you want others to perceive your brand.

An organization’s objectives for how to incorporate social networking into their marketing campaigns often differ.   For example, Beth Bridges, Membership Director of Clovis Chamber of Commerce states that, “Our objective in using social networking is to create a trusted community and to increase awareness of their events within the community. We also use social networking sites to have more personal interaction with members who we might not see at regular networking activities and reach more of the younger business owners in the community who are using social media much more extensively to promote themselves and their businesses.” 

It is a safe bet that the majority of companies that are new to social networking may be tempted to mention their product every five minutes on these sites-it is in your best interest not to do so. I realize that many organizations’s main objective for using social networking sites is to promote their product. I am not telling you to abandon your objective-just alter the method in how you choose to do so.
People use products and services for different reasons and you will never know any of them if you do not take the time to foster a relationship with your target market. Many have been conditioned into thinking that companies could care less about their customers so it is up to your company to prove them wrong. Those who successfully do will reap the benefit of loyal customers. These customers will then share your product or service with their family and friends. It is more effective if you let your target market promote your product for you.

Word of mouth continues to be an important factor in whether consumers and businesses purchase a product or service. Many people consult with family and friends before purchasing a product or service they have never used. People are always asking others for advice on products and services on Twitter. Not too long ago, I went on Twitter to get feedback on software I was considering purchasing and got a response within seconds. This person not only commented about the software I was considering purchasing but recommended alternative software that was cheaper and more robust. Everyone desires to feel confident about the purchases that they make and although they may conduct some research of a product or service (i.e. Consumer Reports) it does not carry as much weight as family or friends.

Cultivating a relationship will enable you to stay ahead of the competition-provided you are listening to your target market. Social networking sites allow you the ability to gauge if you are effectively promoting your product or service to your target market. Based upon conversations in the forums you have the ability to find out what needs are not being met and create a service to meet that need. Social networking enables you to discover opportunities.

For example, you own a coffee shop near a college campus and have established an account on a social networking site. Students are complaining about not having a place to study during final exams and how they love your coffee because it not only tastes great, but helps them stay awake. How could you use this information? A savvy marketer would find out when final exams take place and expand their hours in order to meet the needs of their customers. It is a win-win situation for all involved. The students have a place to study while drinking your excellent coffee and you have the opportunity to increase your profits while further developing your customers’ loyalty to your coffee shop. This opportunity was brought to you by social networking. If your company had not taken the time to interact with your target market using social networking sites your company would have missed out on a golden opportunity to fulfill a need not being met by other coffee shops.

Armed with the knowledge of who you are trying to target, you will be able to determine which of the most popular social networking sites your target market will be found chatting with their family and friends. Although all social networking sites enable you to be interactive, the degree to which you are able to do so is based upon the application you choose. Some of the most popular sites companies are using to advertise their product are as follows:

-Twitter: This is an online micro blog website that integrates with your computer, cell phone and other online social networking sites. Twitter simply asks you, “What are you doing?” You are able to share your thoughts (also known as “tweets”) provided they are under 140 character restriction. People can choose to “follow” you based upon your tweets.

-Facebook: This website allows users to create customized profiles sharing information, photos, videos etc. and has applications that are designed specifically to their site. Facebook users can see only the profiles of confirmed friends and the people in their networks. Friends can look at each others pages and comment on their “wall” (this is a spot where comments can be viewed by others.

-MySpace: This website allows you to stay in touch with friends and meet new people. You have the ability to add new friends based upon the information posted on your space.

-YouTube: A popular site that allows users to upload and store videos to be shared for private or public viewing.
-Brazen Careerist: An online site comprised of Generation-Y (ages18 to 30) that displays blogs written by the community that generates thought provoking discussions.

All of the aforementioned sites will enable you to interact with your target market. Some companies make the mistake of becoming apart of as many social networking sites as possible. As with all things in life-quality will always win out over quantity. Meaning, it is better to invest your time building your relationship with your target market on fewer social networking sites if it means that you are able to truly listen to what is being said and share your industry expertise with those on the site. Joining numerous social networking communities and contributing nothing to them will leave people with the impression that your only there to promote your name and could care less about getting to know them-an impression no business can afford to leave.

Cost effective
Companies are always looking to save money and often zero in on marketing expenses (which is the wrong move to make, but that’s another article!). Social networking can be implemented into your organization’s marketing campaign because it is free. There is absolutely no reason why companies should not be incorporating social networking into their campaigns. The only investment required from companies is their time. After all if you are not willing to learn more about your target market and how using your product or service benefits them-then why should they (your target market) buy your brand?

Social networking sites save time and are cost effective for both companies and their customers. Companies can use social networking sites to gain instantaneous feedback regarding product launches. You can gauge the success of your launch based upon the comments you see shared online. Some companies are even starting to handle their customer complaints on social networking sites. This is a great medium to handle your complaints. People want their issues resolved accurately and quickly-what better way to do so than on their terms? Your customers are more at ease because they are doing something they already enjoy networking with those who share similar interests, family, friends, etc. It is more expensive for companies to attract customers than to retain them, so it is imperative that companies maintain a delicate balance.

Twitter is one of the most popular social networking sites for businesses. Zappos, the world’s largest online shoe retailer, is an excellent example of how companies should use social networking sites. Zappos is constantly being recognized for providing quality customer service. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, along with his employees use Twitter to interact with customers, handle service issues and monitoring comments being made about their company. Comcast and Dell also have customer service people on Twitter who search for and address complaints online. Companies are always searching for fast, accurate, and cost effective methods used to monitor their brand and social networking sites enable you to accomplish these goals.

Ability to market 24/7
In today’s fast paced world there are many people who do not log online during “normal” business hours. In fact, many times people log on these sites during unconventional business hours to connect with family and friends (i.e. friends and family overseas). Social networking sites enable you to continuously market your product or service even when you are not online. The time you have spent in cultivating your relationship with your target market will be evident. Companies who have built great relationships with their customers can rest assure that their customers will continue to “spread the word” about your product or service when your not online.

The aforementioned reasons demonstrate why social networking is an effective marketing technique. Some companies feel that social networking is even more effective than “traditional” marketing techniques (i.e. print advertising, direct mail, etc.).  Holly Homer, Founder and Editor of BurbMom.net which is a website for moms in the North Dallas/Fort Worth area rely solely on social networking sites. “We started out with an advertising budget of zero.  I wanted to see how far we could get by just doing free things. Our website has been online for 3 months and last month we had over 4800 hits-over 60% of those were local.  One hundred local moms have joined our online social network.  We have not spent a dime on advertising. I really don’t think we could have accomplished this much in this short of time through traditional advertising with money.”

Bridges said, “Social networking is absolutely more effective in reaching people who are using social media than the traditional tools-they are going to pay more attention to a message, email, or posting from you if you have established a relationship with them. By following you (or linking to you, joining your group, etc.) they are asking you to keep them informed, unlike a random postcard mailing or newspaper ad.”

Companies cannot afford to dismiss social networking just because it is a relatively new marketing technique. Companies that do not engage in social networking are missing out on opportunities to interact with their customers while simultaneously saving money. Social networking requires your organization’s time and energy to cultivate relationships with your target market that will go along way in fostering loyalty to your brand. In today’s economy, social networking is the one investment you can expect to see a return.

The Value of Your Network and Networking

“The value of a network grows in proportion to the square of the number of users.”

Metcalf’s Law

In an increasingly noisy world, we are all becoming more immune and even resistant to messages and information from others.

Go back a generation or two and you’ll find most business/personal transactions were done on a handshake with someone you knew or got to know through someone you knew. Your route to success today is still tied to your roots . . . the relationships you have built in your life, on trust.

A Network is a group or system of related or connected parts. The action form of Network is Networking – the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions.

Both the Network and Networking are important.

Most people are familiar with the principle of Six Degrees of Separation, where it has been proven that almost all human beings are no more than six people or contacts apart. But without an intentional strategy to build your network or to be involved in networking, Six Degrees of Separation is only a mathematical principle with little or no intrinsic value.

Think about it. Who do you prefer to do business with and provide referrals for? The usual answer is people you already know. The key is to get to personally know and connect with even more individuals. The more people you are directly connected with, the more people you will have inside your network – and also waiting just six contacts away from you.

The art of building a valuable network is strategic in nature – it does not happen by accident.

Successful networking is built on trust. Essentially, it is more about giving than getting. Inexperienced networkers have the attitude of what can I get from this group or person when, in fact, the opposite mental set must be present to build a long-term network. Yes, we must be strategic with the individuals and groups with whom we connect, but we must have in our heart: what can we give or contribute, not what can we take.

Networking is also about quality, not quantity. It took me several years to learn not to be anxious or frantic when attending networking events or opportunities. I used to try to meet as many people as possible. With that approach, I met everyone but really knew no one.

Building relationships takes time and effort. This holds true in the networking world. I have found that if I go to an event or attend some type of networking opportunity and connect (not meet) with just one or two individuals, my time has been well invested. The challenge is that today’s society wants us to think that the fast and the furious win the race. When building a network, being focused and intentional is far more productive.

Networking is a principle that usually defies logic or predictability. Many of us will try to determine in advance who and what will come out of a specific network or contacts. My experience is the exact opposite. Your successful contact, connections, and contracts will usually come from where you least expect them. The best examples of this are the true stories each of us has lived.

Here is an example. In 1989 I joined the National Speakers Association (NSA) and attended my first national convention in Dallas, Texas. Admittedly it was an intimidating event; I met Zig Ziglar, Cavett Robert, and other luminaries from the speaking industry. On the first day, I met fellow Canadian speaker Brian Lee and we became friends. The next year at the NSA National Conference in Atlanta, Brian introduced me to his friend Patti, a trainer who lived in Atlanta. Patti and I also became friends.

Here is where the story reveals the power of a network. Two years later (1992), Patti called me, – all excited. “Ken, I have just met this person here in Atlanta who is looking for trainers for a large project in Canada. I gave Jim your name. Here is his information . . .”

I called Jim the next day and soon thereafter, we met. Jim and his committee selected me to work with them. That single contact referred by Patti resulted in a contract with a Fortune 100 company that, over 10 years, was worth over $10 million dollars to our firm. Never could I have anticipated or predicted that sequence of events. I also wonder where I would be without that single contact made with Brian Lee over 15 years ago.

No matter what your need, focus, or interest, there is almost always an association, network, or group of like-minded individuals. Find out who and where these groups meet. Use the Internet to search for these groups; they range from obvious business organizations to associations for Parents with ADHD Children to thousands of other groups.

I encourage you that whenever possible, be part of a live event. The impact and quality of a person-to-person interaction cannot be replaced by phone calls or email.

Be intentional, be strategic, be giving, and watch what happens. You will be amazed at the power of networking. Remember the old cliché – success is not about what you know, but who you know!

Action Steps to Help You Increase the Value of Your Network

  1. First you must acknowledge that your network and networking are highly influencing your success level.
  2. Building a true network of value does not happen by accident.
  3. Become intentional and strategic about your network and networking activities. Determine how you want your network to look and who should be in it. Define its reason or benefit.
  4. Find out where the individuals you want to target are already meeting or if they are already part of a network.
  5. Be clear about your objectives and purpose.
  6. Always, always, always focus on what you can give not take from the network. Think of what you can offer or contribute; let people know about it.
  7. Become likable, confident, interesting, and attractive.
  8. Think quality, not quantity.
  9. Stay connected on a regular basis in some form or another by letter, email, phone, or in person.
  10. Be willing to let go. Sometimes you might think an individual or organization fits your purpose, passion, and direction but if that is really not the case, acknowledge that you might create more mutually beneficial relationships elsewhere. Because none of us has unlimited time, we must prioritize our networking and networks.
  11. Have fun, enjoy, and let the process unfold. Don’t try to control it – just be in it.

Six Obstacles to Networking and How to Overcome Them

Networking is like so many things in our lives – exercise, eating more fiber and less fat, quitting cigarettes, saving money, writing goals – that we know are not only good for us, but are the keys to success. We know because we’ve occasionally done them enough to see and feel results, but we didn’t keep up with it. Or we’ve seen our friends doing these things and enjoying great health. Or we’ve seen the news articles about the studies that prove these things are beneficial. We’ve even read the books by the experts and celebrities who clearly spell out these actions and habits as the reason for their wealth, health, and happiness.

We know all this, and we know that networking is a vital business development activity and an important life skill, so why don’t we do it? Because there are obstacles in the way of our success, some obvious and some so subtle that we don’t know they are there. Of the six major OBSTACLES to networking, nearly all of them are created inside our own minds. Therefore, it is simple (but perhaps not easy) to change our thinking and to remove them.

The six reasons why we don’t network are:

· Misconceptions
· Dislike
· Having no Purpose
· Not Knowing How
· No time
· Shyness

Misconceptions
Are you holding onto false beliefs about networking that are mostly negative? You think it’s just schmoozing, or that it’s all about selling, or it’s only for outgoing people? Did you try it once and when you didn’t get results, or didn’t feel comfortable, you decided it wasn’t for you?

The basis of any of these fallacies is that you believe it doesn’t work or that it won’t work for you. This error in thinking that is very easy to disprove. Simply look at the millions of business people who are successful because of the relationships they built through networking. Read books by Dale Carnegie, Harvey Mackay, Andrea Nierenberg, and Keith Ferazzi to be convinced of the value and the principles of networking.

Dislike
Do you dislike networking because you don’t feel like selling or being sold to? Do you avoid it because of other people and their poor networking skills? Have you had negative experiences that caused you to have misconceptions about networking?

If you avoid networking because you don’t like the way other people do it, you need to radically shift your thinking from annoyance and dislike of these people, to compassion and seeing an opportunity to help them change bad habits. And just like daily life outside of networking, we need to simply deal with those few who don’t have good skills and keep searching for the right people to build relationships with. If you’ve had negative experiences with networking, you need to research your organizations much more thoroughly. We don’t eat raw food for the rest of our life because we burned our hand on the stove once. Avoiding networking because of other people is cutting our noses off to spite our faces.

Having No Purpose
Do you see networking as an endless series of pointless cocktail parties full of vapid conversations? Is your contact database not growing or even shrinking as people move away? Do you only network when it’s time to change jobs or when business is slow?

If you do not have a strategy and a long-term outlook, you will network based on short-term need, such as losing a job. This can be very unsatisfying because desperation is unattractive. Experienced networkers will avoid your “help me now and I’ll forget you later” approach. Harvey Mackay calls it “digging your well before you are thirsty.” Your purpose in networking is to build a vibrant, growing, and responsive assortment of relationships you can count on, and who can count on you. The development of mutually beneficial relationships will make every conversation important and purposeful, there will be no more pointless chitchat. Instead, you’ll see each time you make contact or converse with someone as another vital but small contribution to the networking structure we are building

Not Knowing How
Do you feel okay with meeting people, but wonder what to do next? Or you are building your contacts, but don’t see results from it. Are you unsure what kind of conversation is appropriate if you’re not going to sell?

If you lack technique or are unsure how to take networking from the early stages of meeting someone to a deeper relationship that is going to create value for both parties, then you may create in your own mind the perception that networking doesn’t work. Or that it’s okay for other people who don’t have money for advertising, but that it’s not necessary for you.

Networking begins with basic social skills such as having conversations that are other-centered. We may feel comfortable in purely social settings like soccer games or birthday parties where we can talk about our children or the happy occasion, but we believe that business networking occasions should be all business. Remember that businesses are run by people, and those people have families, interests, and personal needs. Getting to know someone first is not only perfectly acceptable in the business world, but is the basis of building mutually beneficial relationships.

Once you’re comfortable with learning about people for themselves and not as a prospect or sales target, the next step in knowing how to advance the relationship. The most effective and easy way to do this is to give first. Send them information, an invitation or even a referral for business. They will gladly work with you in return.

We sometimes think that we should automatically know how to network just by virtue of being in business, but this is the one topic where there is a gaping hole in our education and training. Financial planning companies are notorious for bringing in their new associates, giving them detailed FINANCIAL training, no networking training, and then sending them out to network one of the most difficult industries there is. The range of skills that are needed in networking include conversation skills, the ability to perceive and fill other people’s needs, organization, and a clear process for creating a return on the investment of time. This range of techniques requires study and application, like any complex skill.

No Time to Network
Are you ready to network, but you find you just don’t have the time? Do you pencil in networking events, but then have too much work to do and can’t leave the office?

There are only two reasons you don’t have the time to network. Your life may truly be so complicated with jobs, second jobs, childcare, or elder care that you literally work 16-hour days every single day of the week. But, if you watch one single hour of mindless television a day, you are just making excuses to not network. You don’t lack the time; you just don’t want to make the time.

Any busy person who discovered a new passion or a fun new hobby has found that it is possible to find the time when you strongly want to do something. Suddenly, your schedule opens up, you find new efficiencies, or you are able to reprioritize. If you’re not able to do that with networking, revisit your beliefs and your purpose. The time will almost magically appear if you are clearly focused on the value of networking.

There are also ways to be much more efficient and effective with the time you spend networking. Instead of very general events with a random group of people, take time to research exactly whom you need to add to your network and target your networking time accordingly. A leads group is also a time-efficient way to network because it is focused on giving and receiving referrals. You may even want to create your own networking events and activities. This would be a larger investment of time, but the return is much greater when you are the organizer and host.

If you have a short-term perspective, you will feel that the time invested isn’t paying off. If you think you’re wasting time, you won’t spend it. But if it is a long-term project that will compound, it is much easier to find the time to invest. We so often have to deal with the urgent tasks that aren’t important, instead of networking, which is not urgent but very important.

Shyness
Do you feel like you can’t be a good networking because you are an introvert? Or do feelings of shyness hold you back from networking? A majority of people in the population report feeling some shyness at different times. These feelings contribute to the misconception that only outgoing people are good at networking. Having no clear purpose and needing to work on our social skills can compound feelings of shyness, which are basically a lack of self-confidence. Preparation and planning can create confidence, which causes us to be successful which make us more confident.

There are also networking events that are better suited for a more introverted person. Large, non-agenda mixer meetings can be difficult for anyone if you are unfamiliar with the group. Use the buddy system and focus on smaller, more personal events to build your confidence.

Conclusion
Think carefully about your excuses for avoiding networking in relation to these six common obstacles. Nearly every one of them is founded in the way we think. Once we’ve removed these obstacles that come between ourselves and our goal of effective networking, our success is assured. Apply diligence to make sure you’re not allowing bad thinking habits and doubt to creep back in. From now on, it’s simply a matter of time and consistent effort.