Why bother with social networking? With the incredible amounts of visual and audio information out there, you have little time to make an impact. Many of us receive thousands of advertising messages a day. So, in response, some resort to personal recommendations from friends, family, and associates. If referrals are the lifeblood of any organization, and reputation-based word of mouth is one of the most trusted and highest-converting methods of making a sale, then your ability to get your message out to “people who make a difference” will enhance your net profit, guaranteed.
The curve of information is steadily and quickly moving towards social networking sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Wikipedia. User-generated content, such as blogs, podcasts, images, and videos, are also rising quickly in importance. A corporate PR blog may be overshadowed by a blogger’s inside scoop. A homemade YouTube video may be more popular than a carefully controlled corporate message. Furthermore, with so many people who have an ability to research your company, your motivation, and your personal “dirt,” any kind of duplicity or lack of integrity will most definitely be uncovered.
People most naturally connect with like-minded people. If you’re reaching your client community online, you are already two or three steps ahead of anyone who is attempting to broadcast to a generalized audience with a bland, unfocused message. Current trends in advertising for newspapers, television, and radio point to the demise of these broad-scale efforts and the rise of a more strategic approach to finding clients through targeted messaging with niche communities.
When you actively engage your potential customers and your existing clients by offering questions, feedback, and an ability to contribute to your work (like open source user contributions or through public customer comment cards), you’re leveling the playing field for everyone. You are also adding value to your users, and you’re responding to your market. When you develop products and services directly in response to a strongly stated need from your clientele, you support your customers, and you help convert their ideas into realtime solutions.
For women, the internet offers a level playing field where your words, ideas, art, music, or ability to communicate are more important than your appearance, gender, relationship status, nationality, religion, or cultural heritage. When you keep “on message” with what you represent, your customers will naturally gravitate to you because you’re one of their “tribe.”
I believe that social networking is the future of the Internet. When you share your knowledge of diapering techniques or soy candles or best places to visit in Italy or hardwood floors, you’re providing an educated opinion that helps someone else make up their mind about that topic. When you share your knowledge freely (such as on a blog or podcast), you increase your ability to spread your knowledge, you connect with people interested in your topics, and you build a community of people who care about common goals.
On the web today, many expect knowledge to be free, so your added value comes from your expertise in your particular field. Share your basic knowledge but sell your skills as a high-level consultant, strategist, or industry authority. Some great examples include public relations tips blogs run by professionals who offer free tips as well as paid consultations, home mortgage analysis websites with calculators and resource tools and an option to contact the mortgage company, or baby product reviews with customer comments, run by a store owner who also sells the products.
As an aside, please note that if you are a company employee with specific knowledge of a product or service and you are not an official company press representative, you walk a fine line between sharing ongoing developments and disclosing company trade secrets. In my opinion, you must always represent yourself as a single individual who shares your own opinions. Add a disclaimer to your statements to clarify your positions.
My belief is that the rise of user-generated content and online communities will foster an era of cross-cultural understanding, a feeling, especially among younger people, of being part of a global village, and a sense of personal responsibility with an eye to a larger, holistic world view.
New technology arrives every day, so keep abreast by visiting Wired.com or TechCrunch.com if these types of tools interest you. Some additional ways to use social networking sites include organizing documents or people into one focused group, uploading files to one particular listserv, offering teleconference, phone, internet, e-mail, text, or chat-based solutions to your customers, maintaining a group calendar or blog, or finding ways to organize your to-do lists and documents via a web-based location such as Google Groups or Groups.io. Internal “wikis” also provide a way to share information and updates between like-minded people or those on a group or team. Web software that fosters group interaction, such as Google Docs or applications on Facebook or LinkedIn, will contribute to your intent when you are building your social network. In many cases, being connected to at least 150 people yields potential connections to over a million others. Social networking will help you spread the word about your own projects and increase the quality and quantity of your “reach.”
As a final note, committing to opening an account on some of these social networking sites does require from you a certain amount of time to keep your information current. However, time spent by you is also time spent by potential customers on these sites! For example, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg estimates that 50% of registered users return to their Facebook profile every day. He also posted that Facebook is the sixth most trafficked site on the internet and drives more photo postings and event invitations than any other site in the United States.
While you’re shaping your internet strategy for the next five years, consider using social networking sites as your base for reaching targeted, niche customers in your specific field of interest. Get acquainted with the currently available sites.