While many small business owners are flocking to social media and social networking sites, others are scratching their heads and wondering why they should waste their time. Those head scratchers might want to take a look at an article out today over at eWeek that explores the trend of small businesses using social networks as sounding boards and referral services.
The article starts:
The owner of an online lingerie business posts a request on a social networking site to find an ethical, effective search engine optimization company. Within 24 hours, she receives nearly two dozen suggestions from other small business owners. With that information, the small business owner can reduce the risk of going with the wrong company.
The owner of a small trucking company explains in a post on a social networking site that because of late payments and financial setbacks, he is having trouble getting a loan. Immediately, several people respond, offering advice on which Web sites to visit and how to get out of financial trouble. Some of those responding are even loan officers, ready to lend a hand.
These are just two examples of how small businesses are using online social networking—the forums most often associated with teenagers or individual users—to ask questions, get advice, and make valuable business contacts.
While there's no doubting the amount of time that can be wasted on social networks like Facebook and MySpace, there's also little doubt about the potential value for those who have learned to leverage sites like LinkedIn.
I've found myself turning to LinkedIn more and more frequently as I come up with a company or industry where I need a contact. In fact, just last week I was trying to find a contact in the marketing/PR department of a fairly large company. I went to LinkedIn and ran a search using the marketing/pr title and the name of the company. When the results popped up, I could quickly see if anyone in the position I needed to contact was an established contact of someone in my network.
There was, and with a quick email to a friend, I was able to get in touch with the person I wanted to speak with. Before LinkedIn, I would have hunted around for ages before finding the contact and I wouldn't have had the credibility that comes with being introduced by someone who knew both parties.
Mike Gotta, principal analyst at Burton Group sees this type of value in small businesses using social networks as well.
"It [has] always been the case that business success is intimately linked to how well an organization taps into its relationships across employees, customers, partners and suppliers," Gotta said. "Social networking is just a means to that end—it helps humanize the organization [and] allows people to establish relationships and participate from a community sense."
Keep in mind, joining a social network like Facebook or LinkedIn for the purpose of making business connections is not time consuming. Think of it more as a virtual rolodex that happens to let you flip through the rolodex of your business associates as well. Use it when you need it. Focus on getting your work done when you don't.
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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