Open your mind to social media

These (and other) social networks are having a more powerful impact for small business organizations than for huge ones. “Follow me on Twitter” signs are appearing on the windows of small businesses all over America and in many other countries as well.

I’ve talked to some business owners who have those signs on their windows. Some told me they were saving thousands of dollars a year by using these networking services and generating new sales leads.
Then I had conversations with some who were making no efforts to connect online with their markets or use social networking in any way. “Oh, my kids do that stuff. I think it’s stupid.” “Too fluffy for me.” “I waste too much time on email as it is. All I need is one more thing to eat up what time I have left.” “Yeah, then everybody would know everything about my business.”
I heard comments about the significant growth some organizations were realizing from online networking, and the many reasons others were still reluctant to enter that arena.
There are risks, I’m sure. There are risks in using any tool. We’ve all probably made mistakes with hammers, saws or even kitchen knives. Still we do not abandon them, but learn to be more careful. At any hardware or drug store, there are few products you can buy without a couple sheets of warnings attached.
Checking into some of the benefits and risks of social networking led me to conclude that the potential for online networking to grow a business far outweighs any risk.
Of course, some wariness is well-founded. You do want to put thought into entering this new land. You do want to, with colleagues, develop a well-formed desired outcome from the initiative.
You want to clarify your specific market and then figure out what network is the right one – or ones – for your audience. You have to find the right fit. Also, you want to look at the many social media tactics and select those best for your company. (Weekly specials, new products, humor, success stories or perhaps tactics net yet imagined!) You want to put thought into the profile you project across the Internet. And the visuals (photos, artwork) that best tell your story. The wonder of the internet is that all of this can be tweaked at any time. Still, you want to start out with a strong, clear picture of your business.
There is research available to you in doing all this. Once you enroll your business in a network (nearly all are free) you can browse, making notes along the way. By the way, getting registered and up and running won’t take more than half a day. Maintaining your network will require attention, but will not eat up unreasonable amounts of time unless you let that happen.
As far as privacy goes, you have control of the information you disclose on your social network profile. Still, once data is “out there,” it can come back to haunt you. So think twice before you hit “enter,” just as you (hopefully) think twice before you hit “send” on e-mail. I use one network to keep in touch with friends and family all over America, and another for professional networking.
You may want to open separate accounts on a network. Again – a tool for you to use to meet your specific needs.
As far as technical skills, completing your profile online is just filling out a form – and much simpler than many forms you’ve dealt with in your business life.
As far as benefits go, I think we’re just in the infancy stage. I’ve heard of great hires that resulted from employers casting a wide net into cyberspace via one of these networks. Business partners have been discovered the same way. I read about a physician who discovered another one doing research similar to his. They are now collaborating and presented a paper on the subject at a big convention a few months ago.
The exchange of ideas is endless once you open your mind to social networking. And of course, you have this powerful tool for building closer relationships with countless numbers of prospects and customers. Go for it…and send me your success stories. I’d love to hear.

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