People often ask me, how does social media technology benefit business? I tell them it’s all about the relationship. Relation to others who use a product or service. Relation to the product or service itself. If used wisely, relation to the purveyors of products and services. Business is about building relationships. Social media, such as blogs, message boards, Twitter, LinkedIn, et al., merely provide more efficient vehicles for relationships.
Think of social media as the evolution of the town square, where people would share experiences, gossip—some of it true, some not—and information. Certainly if you were to catch wind of misinformation about your business in the town square, you would walk (maybe run) down to the square to confront and clarify the situation. One of the greatest challenges with social media, however, is a certain discomfort with the technology and how it works. It’s easy to walk to the square, but what the hell is a Wiki?
This sentiment is shared by many executives who cut their teeth on manila file folders and stacks of leather-bound books. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it can present challenges when introducing social media into the business development mix.
Consumers of Mountain Dew, Target and Starbucks already are heavily engaged in product-centered social media. I believe “serious businesses,” such as law, accounting and engineering won’t lag for long. If you doubt the pending impact of mobile and social media, search Google for the latest version of Apple’s iPhone. Insiders expect a technological revolution on par with the introduction of Microsoft Windows.
Okay, visiting the ‘Dew Crew’ website certainly is fun for some. But how does it apply to building business? Social media simply extends the ability to build business relationships.
Through technology, we create the opportunity for clients and prospects to share information. As an expert in your business, you have much to offer social media settings. You can insert your expertise into the conversation in a meaningful way, providing a direct benefit to an online network of potential prospects or existing clients. By the way, blatant self-promotion is taboo and rarely works.
Fair warning, most social media efforts unravel because technology drives the foray into social networking rather than determining what relationship we seek with humans on the other end. Many social media efforts never lift off because of lack of clarity toward the business impact.
It’s less complicated than one might imagine. Among the many benefits of social media, you might view the time and effort needed to consistently monitor and participate in online networks as an informal market research tool. You learn real-time about the needs, challenges and satisfaction of those engaged in the conversation. A voyeuristic view into the mind of the client or prospect, if you will. Some might characterize this as “voice of the customer” research, which, according to my market research friends at RADCL Software, is very real and extremely impactful in setting the course for any business. The power of social media rests solely in providing valuable two-way communication and then acting on what you learn.
Many businesses hold in-person CEO roundtables or forums to create a dialogue among executives facing similar issues. A client of mine successfully drew many executives to learn about human resources, information technology, litigation exposure, and tax law. Frequently, however, the time between forums spanned months. Dialogue, momentum and connectivity to the firm ebbed. Social media, such as message boards, blogs, instant message groups among many other vehicles can extend the value of these in-person experiences. All give clients and prospects opportunity to stay connected with you, and you to remain part of the conversation.
Social media technology is not rocket science. Many companies have dedicated IT staff who frequently are eager and capable of bringing new media technology to the business. Remember, though, technology is merely the catalyst. Information gained and actions taken as a result represent the value of social media participation.