Our client Sermo was featured in a Wall Street Journal article this week on the business of social networking. Social networking is an interesting phenomenon that surprisingly has taken a while to catch on in business and with professionals across multiple industries. Business was born on networking – that’s an age-old lesson that anyone knows. It’s the formerly “impersonal” way of communicating via the Internet that caused the delay of networking online for business purposes. However, with everything from meeting your future spouse to running your business taking place on the Internet, networking online for business and professional growth – or even as a business model – is a no-brainer.
Think about your neighborhood and how you find who to use for items such as a pediatrician, a hairdresser, a great accountant, a good dog walker. You ask your friends or neighbors. You get their opinions, ask about their experience with different vendors and listen to recommendations. Social networking allows this exchange to go beyond your physical location and even your initial network for even greater insight. It also allows us to pool our collecitve intelligence and experiences for greater insights, such as the 25,000 doctors sharing information on Sermo. Social networking for business just makes sense.
The advent of social networking for business professionals, such as LinkedIn, is not that far from a very general, basic idea. Years ago, before “Web 2.0” or “social networking” or even “MySpace” were media darlings, the Internet was used for listings provided by local area businesses. Patrons of such businesses would leave comments or recommendations based on their experiences on the site’s forums or message boards. It was a bit clumsy and not very interactive but it worked. Social networking for business simply elevates and expands upon this very basic idea. Not only can you promote your thoughts, opinions and recommendations (including your own company’s products or services) but you can easily view and connect with 2nd and 3rd tier contacts – friends of friends, if you will – for business exchanges such as recruiting, choosing a service vendor, trying a product, etc. Social networking enables you to quickly and easily expand your network, which can be utilized in many ways – not the least of which is marketing and PR purposes. PR is influence by word of mouth, essentially, so social networking is a must for any promotional campaign today.
Social networking in general started as a form of self expression. Teenagers and college students flocked to it as a way to connect with others like them outside of the usually small social circle in the “real” world. Today, it is helping to shape businesses of all types and is still based on that basic premise of expression. If I have a bad – or good – experience at a retail store, online shopping or at a restaurant, my complaints go well beyond my intimate social circle and have much greater power than a letter to the Better Business Bureau. A few posts on a Facebook wall, a blog comment or a Q/A on LinkedIn ensures the word spreads like wildfire to people who matter. And, as the WSJ article today states, social networking is “moving more into the mainstream” – ensuring anyone’s “self expression” today has a very meaningful – and profound – impact. Now, it’s a matter of how to ensure that expression is a positive reflection of your company or products and services.