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.

January 3, 2008

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.


I agree that LinkedIn can be invaluable source of contacts and I have used it several times for business purposes. I don't think places like Facebook and Myspace which are much more social in nature are a good way to solicit business. You have to take more time to develop contacts and engage people as you stated. In addition to take the risk of alienating people if you come on too strong. Just like in the offline world, it's about networking and making the right contacts. It will be interesting to see as these "case studies" emerge from social media.

There are serious social networks and then there are social networks where your page background can be the rear end of a very healthy "model". Obviously there is more value in some than others.

LOL, that's a very good way to put it Terry. I agree completely.

Facebook and MySpace can be interesting if you want to learn about the social lives of your contacts, but overall, it's sites like LinkedIn that I find true value in as a small business type.

Great article. I especially like the fact that you made a distinction between sites like LinkedIn and Myspace. I also liked the piece about using your network when you need it and focus on getting your work done when you don't. It's very easy to get distracted on LinkedIn.
By the way, I linked to this post in my blog.

Good article Jennifer ... thank you!

Where my company seems to struggle is when to go mainstream with social technologies. Do you have any thoughts or could you point me to articles where mid sized companies have implimented social networking as a business benefit to thier customers and seen good results?

Thank you!

Larry V

Thanks DeAnna!

Larry, that's a tougher one. Social Media is one of those areas where people are still working on establishing metrics. I mean it's easy to see some immediate benefit in terms of traffic, networking and even higher engagement rates, but sometimes tying the sale or a dollar figure to it can get tough.

I wrote a post back in November that asked how people were valuing Social Media. The post has quite a few links to other blogs and their perspectives on how best to measure this.

There are a lot of companies out there having success, but the world still seems a little short on case studies of sites who are willing to really share the results. I used Flickr with great success last year in my "Hide and Speak" experiment to drive traffic to a niche product site that sold items in the $20-$40 range. Stormhoek wines are a great case of a company that used both blogs and social networking to increase sales. (Mack had a great column on this yesterday.)

Thank you for this great article. I completely agree that business owners are using online social networks more frequently for business tips and ideas

Good article.Really very intelligent.

This is a great article i’ve taken advantage of. Thank you so much!

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