When you do what I do for a living, it's a constant battle to remind yourself that not everyone lives and breathes online marketing. The true challenge of small business education isn't really in teaching people what they need to know...it's in convincing them they need to know it. That's why I couldn't resist writing a rebuttal to an article over at Anita Campbell's Small Business Trends site by John Mariotti called "Ten Reasons I Won't Use Social Media Sites."
Apart from reminding me of how far we have to go in educating small business owners, the article also reminded me of how quickly we dismiss the unknown.
John wrote:In spite of the fact that I have always been an early adopter of new technology -- or communications-based tools, social media turns me off. I have signed myself onto a couple in their early stages -- at the urging of friends -- and that's when I realized why I wouldn't have anything more to do with them, at least until they get much further down their evolutionary trip and improve measurably.
John goes on to list ten reasons why he stays away from these sites. Some of them make sense and are quite understandable:Social networking is in the evolutionary stage, and as such, all of the sites that exist now will change, evolve become either more useful and secure or go away.
andSecurity of social networking sites is as great a risk as passing business cards around in a busy bar. No matter how many times the site owner/operator promises your information will be protected, secure, etc., the lure of money will make them liars. Someone will buy the site for the contacts that come with it -- period. Then they will sell those lists to as many people and companies as will pay for them, to do whatever they wish with them.
But other reasons...well, they're stereotypical lines justifying an avoidance of something new and different.Real business people realize that this social networking trend is superficial. True relationships may originate in email or other similar venues, but must become personal and not electronic to be of meaningful value.
andI am simply too busy to meddle with something that is at least largely populated with people who have nothing better to do with their time, or others who think is it somehow an easy way to really be connected to a lot of people.
It was those two lines that prompted me to craft a response to John in the comments after his post.I don't know John. I think you've confused online dating sites with social networking sites. I also think your view is a tad bit antiquated. Now if you are a small business that has a traditional office and you "go to work" each day, and you aren't a primary caretaker of children, your ideal world of off-line networking functions, organizations and classes might be practical.
But the "real world" of small business is changing. I've spent the last decade working with small business owners...teaching them how to utilize technology and the Internet to market their businesses. I see people all over the country running virtual offices with anywhere from 2, to a few dozen employees. These companies bill anywhere from half a million a year to several million a year. I'd argue that makes them "real" companies.
The ones who have taken the time to learn about and to carefully select the social networks they wish to spend time on pull incredible reward from them. Remember that "vouching for someone" works online and offline. I travel once a month to shows around the world. Thanks to social networks, I can keep in touch with the people I meet at these shows and I can then network with the people they know and can vouch for.
I've watched small business owners create a community via Twitter that allows them to bounce ideas off each other, get quick access to info, offer support and close deals. I've seen the same happen via LinkedIn and even Facebook.
I joined Twitter as a skeptic last fall so I could write an article about how I gave it a fair shake and it's useless. Instead, I churned out a five article series explaining exactly how to leverage Twitter for your small business.
I'm co-owner of a virtual company that does very good business online. Three of us work from virtual offices full time. We also have two part time employees and more than a dozen contractors that work with us. I work from home full time and have two small children. Heading off to breakfast meetings and being involved in the rotary and half a dozen professional organizations simply isn't feasible for me at this point in my life.
But thanks to my involvement in social networks, I have thousands of contacts around the world, hundreds of which I have now met personally. On top of that, my contacts are not limited by geography which gives me true access to the best of the best.
I understand the new technology can seem overwhelming and finding the diamonds in the rough can be difficult...but I always thought the thing that really made small business owners stand out was their ability to adapt with the times and to find creative ways to use new technologies. If you find these types of networking options to lack value, it may simply be that you don't know how to properly use them.
Or, it may be that they don't work for you. Either way, I'd hate to see any small business owner pass up the chance to create strong and lasting business relationships via these tools because you convinced them it wasn't worthwhile. As one of your commenters noted above, the truth is often somewhere in between.Social networking is not THE solution to small business life...but hiding in an anti-social networking box isn't the solution either.
I've often wondered at the marvel of online networking. I'm an incredibly social person, but my personal life and my choice to be a full-time caretaker to my children severely limits my ability to attend networking events locally. Sure, I can arrange for childcare when I'm traveling, but there's a big difference between asking the grandparents to keep your kids for a few days every month or so and asking them to keep your kids a couple times a week. (Especially when they live a few hours way.)
Thanks to online networking tools like LinkedIn and Twitter (especially Twitter) I can not only keep in touch with contacts around the world, but can be introduced to new contacts. In fact, I spent a huge amount of time leveraging Twitter to network with local marketers in Houston before our spring Unleashed conference. I've also been able to leverage Twitter to meet a dozen or so new Ohio marketers that I haven't yet met in person, but will soon.
Then again, all of this is being written by the person who owns a company with someone she's worked with for four years, but only actually met last summer. So maybe I'm a tad bit biased? Or maybe John is.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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