Social Networking 101 For Businesses

Posted by: Colleen Debaise on May 1, 2009

I went to an interesting event last night — and it wasn’t just for the “Tweetinis” (blood-orange infused vanilla vodka martinis). This was a pow-wow on “Social Networking 101,” sponsored by the Financial Communications Society, featuring speakers from Conde Nast, General Electric, Edelman and the New York Post. This was supposed to be a small event, but when the RSVP list doubled in size, the organizers moved it to a larger space at a Wall Street Journal office in midtown. Everyone, it seems, from big multinational corporations to media players to small companies, are trying to figure out what to do with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr and anything else that a fruity cocktail will soon be named after.

The big question: How does a business use these social-networking sites?

No one answered that question precisely, but some of the take-aways from the panel:

Remember back in the mid-90s, when everyone was talking about what to do with the Internet? (Evenutally, companies figured out that websites were a business imperative.) The explosion of social-networking is much the same. “You have to accept that this is happening,” said Josh Stinchcomb, executive director at Conde Nast digital. “And you have to figure out how to play in this space.”

Along those same lines, companies also have to realize that “Google is every brand’s homepage now,” said Steve Rubel, a senior vice president at Edelman Digital. In other words, people search Google first when trying to find you or your product or service — and might stumble across a dissatisfied customer’s complaints before anything else.

For that reason, an increasing worry for any company is damage control, said Rikin Diwan, online business development associate at the New York Post. To counteract negative comments, businesses need to breed “loyalist” consumers who will become “champions of your brand,” he said.

How to breed loyalists? Well, try social networking (yes, it’s circular). Gary Sheffer, executive director of corporate communications for General Electric, said it’s frustrating when people post online comments about GE - or any of its many divisions — that he has no ability to control. “It does freak me out,” he said. But at the same time, now he’s got far more outlets to do his marketing or PR. “Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or a story in the Wall Street Journal,” he said, “if I can get a message to an audience that is more customized, that is a good thing. I’m excited about this.”

Want to share how your business is using social-networking sites? Post a comment here.

Reader Comments

Greg Michalowski

May 1, 2009 1:46 PM

I am a currency analyst for a retail foreign exchange trading firm, and what we find is our customers need some hand holding as they learn about trading forex. We maintain a commentary page at http://forex.fxdd.com but have also found that customers just want a short note that can direct them to something bigger. Twitter (http://twitter.com/gregmikeFX)is the perfect tool for this. For example, if there is a news story that might influence trading, or if there is a key support or resistance level approaching, we can easily send a "headline tweet". This can speed the transmission mechanism that users can use to save or make a trading profit.

SmartMoney.com thought it was a good idea. They recently highlighted 12 twitter sites that investors could use to "Make Smarter Money Moves". Our site was one of the 12 highlighted. See: http://www.smartmoney.com/investing/economy/tweet-this-12-financial-pundits-to-follow-on-twitter/?page=13

Barry De Vries

May 1, 2009 2:03 PM

Glad you're doing this, Greg. I need all the help I can get.

Jen McClellan

May 1, 2009 2:14 PM

Colleen - great write up. So glad you made it.

Greg - you're absolutely right - and that's all about being where your audience is - Gary Sheffer at GE talked about this and I think Colleen captured it nicely - there are so many channels for messages now - use them! People want to be empowered - so empower them.

I think the days when "this is too complex... for this audience, for this channel..."that's gone. People want information, they really do want to understand.

Rikin Diwan

May 1, 2009 2:30 PM

Thanks for the write up Colleen! I was hoping to have a chance to speak with you directly but didn't get a chance to. Glad you enjoyed the event and our panel. It was an honor for me to be next to some giants in this industry.

Since this is a social networking cause please feel free to chat with me on twitter - @rikin311

Jean Levasseur

May 1, 2009 3:17 PM

I'm the community manager for http://www.americasjobexchange.com. We are doing some fairly basic social networking so far. We've got presences on twitter and facebook, which are driven by content from the America's Job Search blog (http://blog.americasjobexchange.com). What I've been trying to do is post job advice for job seekers, hiring advice for employers, career management advice, and then jobs from various locations around the country every day. We've been met with some success in the month or so that we've been running our social networking campaigns, and I'm hoping to grow them even more.

You can follow us on twitter - @ajejobs

Jenn Rebain

May 1, 2009 3:41 PM

Evolving into social media: We started a 'What Happens Next in Financial Services' conversation offline at events, took it online in the form of a microsite (www.sungard.com/whn) and are now going social with #WHN on Twitter - inviting others to share their thoughts on what happens next or comment on what industry leaders have told us.

The challenge is engagement -- not just pushing out content, but engaging others and encouraging authenticity.

The social media curve I am seeing is that 2007 - 2008 was about usage, 2009 is about engagement.

Comments welcome http://www.twiter.com/jrebain

@mthinker

May 1, 2009 5:13 PM

I remember when everyone obsessed over websites when they really should have been working on their customer databases and email. It's no different now. Management is worried about what to say rather than understanding how social media works and how to listen. Social media integration with CRM is utterly essential. Very few people discuss it or even understand what that last sentence even means.

Ahmed Yearwood

May 1, 2009 5:47 PM

Colleen, great summary of last night's Social Networking 101 panel/reception! One of my big take-aways from the evening was Steve Rubel's concept of "Digital Embassies" – a company needs to have a foot in each of these channels (facebook, linkedin, twitter, etc), maintain and nurture them. What we try and do with our clients is resolve their concerns regarding time – the biggest fear I get is, "Yeah, I get it, I want to do it, but who has the time to do all this stuff???" Rikin Diwan (NYPost.com) made a point that was right on – start small and let it build from there. You don't need a million dollar ad budget.

Rick @rbucich

May 1, 2009 6:13 PM

As a former GEer, I thought it was pretty cool to see the company on Twitter, and naturally I followed the accounts. The tweets aren't engaging however and strictly one sided, so while I commend them for taking a step in the right direction, they aren't using the tool to its full potential. Currently, it is only individual employees at NBC that seem to have the momentum and understanding on how to leverage social media. If I were to say something negative about GE on Twitter, I wonder if anyone would notice/respond???

Greg Michalowski

May 1, 2009 7:59 PM

Jen McClellan...a few short weeks ago, I did not get Twitter but then I started thinking about the customers and what they need/want and it started to snowball fairly quickly.

The question now becomes does FXDD benefit? Does it bring more customers? Does it bring revenue to the firm? After all businesses are in business to make money. Quantifying that can be difficult.

I understand that Twitter followers can become sales leads but will people eventually get "over sold" by all the people they follow. If it becomes bothersome, it may fade, just like how email has become bothersome - especially in the home. It is almost getting easier to call people then to expect a reply to an email.

Anyway, I like the power of it and I like the abilty to empower our customers (and potential future customers) with my 25 years of knowledge, but I do need to get my arms further around the payoff. I think it is there however.

Kelly

May 2, 2009 7:55 AM

Colleen - The 3 job sites chosen by about.com as getting the best results for job seekers -

www.linkedin.com (professional networking)
www.indeed.com (aggregated listings)
www.realmatch.com (matches you to jobs)

good luck to all.

Rob

May 3, 2009 10:31 PM

There doesn't seem to be a single 'best set' of SN tools that are a must-have for any and all businesses. There seem to be combinations of SN tools that work, depending on the business model, and there may be multiple combinations that can work well for any single model.

Keeping up with the broad range of tools is too big a task for a business alone. It seems a stronger approach to empower customers or employees through the use of widgets or gadgets to perform SN on behalf of the business.

Muhammad Chaudhry

May 4, 2009 3:53 AM

Internet is one of the biggest source of communication. Our new generations utilize internet in all kind to aspects (Find,Learn and Share). Socializing and information sharing is one of the biggest tools that internet provides and the good thing is this information source is cheap and getting better day by day. Which make it easier to research...the more easier the research for the consumer the better it is....The competition is about the Quality of Information. Due Diligence is made easy by the use of internet.

Andrew Wagner

May 4, 2009 9:18 AM

As a brand steward and agency founder, I am excited about the continued digital evolution and the product that it brings to the table. Yet, I am concerned. As companies develop "extended experiences" that present the brand outside of the branded experience they took years, significant dollars and human capital to create, they need to consider that they are energizing audience fragmentation. A brand should want to extend themselves into the conversation in a controlled manner yet....who truly owns the "FaceBook Fans" and the "Twitter Followers"? Imagine Facebook said, "Starting June 1st, a brand needs to pay $0.10 cents per fan per month? "

Chris Sandlund

May 5, 2009 2:30 PM

Andrew W.: Your concern points to one of the key takeaways that I had from the event. The big push in social media will be support for Open Social, Google's effort to take social networking everywhere on the 'net. In effect, Facebook will become the next AOL -- out of the loop as Social Networking no longer requires a service to host it, but can happen all over the Web.

@Victor_Cheng

May 8, 2009 2:49 AM

The big ah ha moment for me in recognizing the value of social media is the realization that the word of mouth impact of a social media user is 10 times higher than that of say a print newspaper reader.

This is a huge insight provided by uber blogger Gary Vaynerchuk. The insight is deeply profound.

The crisis management PR firms have clearly figured this out. One really pissed of customer with a Flip camera, a blog, and youtube account can kill your business.

Google: Kryptonite Locks for an example and see how they lost 2 YEARS of profits in a social media generated PR fiasco and product recall.

The flip side is winning over a really active social media user is wildly powerful. They can link to you via their blog, digg you, share you with their friends on facebook, or introduce you to their twitter followers.

So the potential for social media being a total game changer is very significant - and certainly too significant to ignore.

But, what is each tool useful for?

Here's my breakdown:

1) Twitter is great for staying in touch with "fans"... and works best as a broadcast medium with the semblance of you can reach out and touch a celebrity.

For example, I follow "Demi Moore" (as do 600,000 other people) and she tweets to some of her fans directly, and it "feels" like she's really accessible. So twitter is a great way to build a one-to-many relationship.

2) Facebook is great for staying in touch with someone you had a brief interaction with. In my business, I use facebook to stay in touch with reporters that interview me.

They're really happy to hear from me on the day they need me to meet their deadline, but how about the next day?

I also do the same with clients so they can stay connected to me in way that's minimal work for me.

Facebook is useful for taking that inital contact, and being able to stay connected. It's also a good way to passively update your initial contacts to nurture that relationship whether with the media, an early stage prospect, potential business partner, etc...

3) LinkedIn is also good for maintaining a way to connect with initial contacts. So if you don't want your early stage prospects to have visibility into your personal life (as would likely happen on Facebook), LinkedIn is a good choice. You can always reach them if needed (and vice versa), but the downside is there is no passive, automatic, staying-in-touch aspect like facebook.

I also used linkedin to find people. For example, I'm trying to get my book The Recession-Proof Business placed into the book section of Kinkos-Fedex. I don't know anyone there. So I'm using LinkedIn to see if I know somebody, who knows somebody there. So it's useful as a super inter-connected rolodex.

4) Blogging is a good way to take an audience that has had some exposure to you (via personal networking, seeing something you wrote on some social media site, etc..) and to nurture that relationship over time.

When I give speeches, I will mention my blog www.victorcheng.com as way for those who liked my talk to stay connected to me.

I use the blog as much richer way of building a one-to-many relationship with people who has some brief exposure to me (richer than say using twitter), liked what they saw, and were just barely interested in enough to visit my blog.

I post written blog posts and videos just about everyday. My rationale is if they are paying attention to me, then they are too busy to pay attention to my competitors. And following the premise that people like to do business with people they know, trust, like and have previously demonstrated their expertise, they get all of that from my blog.

So by the time I have a sales call with them, it's usually they who are requesting the call. They've mentally already decided they want to work with me.

And the only remaining questions are which services to buy and how much. It's a much shorter conversation when your prospect is already 90% sold before you say hello for the first time.

The bar for keeping blog readers/subscribers is high. Produce content that stinks or is even mediocre forget about it. But if you really know your stuff, the sky is the limit.

5) Leaving comments on other people's blogs (like this one) is a way to get people to one of your social media sites that's ideal for nurturing (such as twitter, facebook, or your blog).

It's a great way to get noticed by well connected bloggers who might someday down the road blog about you or link to a post.

It's a way to enhance the blog post with additional information and perspectives (which makes the blogger happy).

It helps me build my reputation with that blog's readers. If my comments are useful, practical, and insightful, then over time regular readers of this blog might notice and recognize my name -- hey it's the Victor Cheng guy again leaving a super long, really useful comment.

At some point, it prompts them to seek you out, where they end up in one of you social media nurturing sites (blog, facebook, twitter).

In any case that's how I've been using social media today.

When I first started, I was all over the map and it's very easy to get lost into one big time wasting black hole.

These days, I've figured out what each social media tool is most useful for in my business, and use it specifically and exclusively for that particular purpose.

I've found this deliberately thought out approach helps me get the most out of what is a huge time investment on my part. Without this focus, there's no way social media would be a good return on my investment of time.

Victor Cheng
www.victorcheng.com

@magpiecreative

May 12, 2009 8:44 AM

@Victor_Cheng Thanks so much for the insightful comment - this is a perfect explanation of how someone can use Social Media to enhance what they are currently doing - effectively.

Social media avenues like Twitter and FaceBook tend to be online versions of how I network naturally. As a Community and Public Relations person, I love the fact that these avenues allow folks to get to know me on their own time, feel that they have a sense of who I am and then - feel comfortable with me when I approach them or when they decide to approach me. It allows the other person to feel they have "a stake" in our relationship on their own terms.

Like everything, Social Media tools are all what you make of them and like relationships in the "real world" they do not develop overnight but need to be nurtured and respected.

My two cents...thanks again.

Maggi Blue
@magpiecreative

Kaplan Mobray Author, The 10Ks of Personal Branding

May 17, 2009 11:53 AM

Hi Colleen, many
Great insight on the emergence of social media and the challenge for corporations today. I would advocate that while some companies have dabbled on twitter and set up corporate facebook pages most are doing it to just "be there". And for some it is a tool to be perceived as current and hip.

For those companies who want to harness the power of social media it is a great way to get a pulse on consumer trends, a cost effective way to test the viability of a new product concept, and a way to virally extend the sales cycle of a new product that has been introduced. I would project that the use of twitter, facebook, stumbleupon, and digg among other sites can help a company extend the maturity of a new product within its product life cycle by two to five years translating into 2x-5x sales and revenue. It can also help generate great awareness for a company that may have a great product but a lesser known brand. While also reviving a product line that has showed dormant sales through "word of tweet" buzz. Growing anything from 2x-5x in this environment is powerful. Thank you for raising the awareness of the power of social media.

You can find these and more of my insights by visiting my (k)log at www.kaplanmobray.com

@Victor_Cheng

May 18, 2009 4:24 PM

@magpiececreative you are so right. I've been giving a lot of in person speeches to local business groups recently, and realized that most local businesses market via networking and word of mouth.

I've been much more of a direct response marketer (online, direct mail, etc...) and public spekaing (in person, teleconf,) type marketer, so this was new news to me.

I also noticed that everyone seems to show up to these local groups intent on handing out as many business cards as possible.

99% never follow up with anyone to develop a relationship first, before doing business or asking for a referral.

BUT, I did notice that a few master networkers I've met, meet tons of people, stay in touch... they know everyone and everyone knows them.

They stay in touch via email, grabbing lunch/coffee together, sending hand written notes (for the totally social media oriented folks that's a little piece of paper involving something called an envelope and using something called a stamp :)

And sometime in the future, some type of commercial transaction comes out of a referral or a previous contact now has a need the master networker can fulfill from a business stand point... but when they first met, the need was not there.

This is the best practice way to network socially in person.

The totally wrong way to do it is to go to one of these local events, and pretty much start selling yourself hard, ignore the other person, don't let them say anything, and pretty much just talk about yourself the entire time.

During all of this observation, I've been delving more into the world of social media and realize that it's essentially the same dynamic.

The good social networkers (via online social media) find a way to make initial contact and then follow up via a getting to know each other process. The social tools like twitter and facebook are great for doing this very passively.

You don't have to send little notes to 400 people each day, just one little tweet or status update and everyone gets updated.

Its weird I know more about one of my classmates from high school today, then I did many years ago when we rarely spoke to each other.

Similarly, I think a lot of people are using social media the wrong way. They are to put it flatly: RUDE.

Just like the guy who tries to network in person just talking about me, myself, and I, there is a online social media equivalent.

In person and online, share an interest in others and they will develop an interest in you.

Help them solve their problems via content, commentaries, articles or links to useful resources, and they start paying more attention to you and are much more likely to refer or do business with you when it's appropriate to do so (e.g., they have a need you can fulfill, as opposed to you trying to sell them a solution to a problem they don't currently have)

It was through the combination of these experience that it dawned on media that social media is NOT actually some type of new cutting edge form of media.

Social media is really how we as human beings have been networking since the Roman merchants tried to get new business by knowing all the people in their community.

It is probably the oldest form of marketing there is, but done so with modern tools that make it a lot easier.

What worked for the merchants of ancient Rome, I think are 100% applicable to how business owners and marketers should be using modern day social media tools.

Sadly, I think way too many people get enamored with the technology, and forget that at the end of the day social media is about HUMAN BEINGS and how we connect to one another.

If you know people better than you know social media, I think you'll do well with it.

If you don't know people and are really good at alienating them in person, when you add in social media tools you're only going to alienate more people, faster, and more efficiently than you ever could before.

Victor Cheng
www.askvictor.com

Tom Vosper

August 22, 2009 8:36 AM

@ Victor_Cheng Thank you so much for your wonderful insight into SN. I am an absolute newbie to SN but realize the great potential it represents.

In my profession - Fundraising - I am all about inspiring people to make the world a better place - enabling the human potential and fulfilling dreams. To be effective I must develop relationships with people built on trust that I am going to be a good steward of the investment they make in my organization. I must communicate back to them about their investment and how it's impacting the vision - enabling potential, fulfilling dreams and making the world a better place.

If done effectively others will see the impact of my organization and want to engage to learn more and potentially want to help. It's the communication of impact that will drive the income for my organization to have even greater impact.

SN presents the opportunity to engage so many more beyond the in person one-to-one relationships.

Thanks again

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What's it like to run your own company today? Entrepreneurs face multiple hurdles new and old, from raising capital and managing employees to keeping up with technology and competing in a global marketplace. In this blog, the Small Business channel's John Tozzi and Nick Leiber discuss the news, trends, and ideas that matter to small business owners. Follow them on Twitter @newentrepreneur.

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