By Gery L. Deer
Deer In Headlines
Recent changes to the social media website, Facebook, has its 800 million users, shall we say, apprehensive. Constant updates to the software on our personal computers is nothing new, but now that such technology has become a pivotal tool in managing our professional and social networks, people get worried when it changes even slightly.
Social media has become such a perceived necessity, that entire industries are evolving whose sole purpose is getting business professionals connected on Facebook or Twitter. Unfortunately, some important business axioms are being put into question by the very existence of these virtual networks.
When I first went into business, sometime in the early 1990’s, there were two things you had to do to let people know you were out there. First, you ran an ad in the local newspaper. After that, made sure everyone you knew was aware of your new venture and helped to spread the word.
Growing up, my family had our own business – several actually, so I guess I come by my diverse careers honestly. I remember my dad and brother always slowing us down from whatever we were doing because they had to stand and talk to people.
I just wanted to get the job done and get home. What I didn’t know then, but thrive on now is that they were actually developing long-term relationships with customers and vendors, albeit far informally. Actually, they probably didn’t know what was happening either, chalking it up simply as a friendly conversation. But now, we refer to that kind of face-to-face, personal business contact as, “networking.”
Networking occurs when people of mutually beneficial needs and resources interact. It requires a willingness to listen and learn about the other parties to determine how you can be of assistance to them. In return, they will be receptive to your needs and respond in kind.
Building a solid business network takes time and effort on the part of all involved and some are more fruitful than others. Virtual or web-based networks offer only exposure with limited or no credibility. Online testimonials from colleagues and customers can help, but until a potential client gets some face time any relationship you might develop will be short lived.
As businesses continue to struggle in an ever-floundering economic environment, social media could actually be impeding recovery. Facebook and LinkedIn might make it easier for professionals to connect with potential markets, but moving from a visibility stage to something more profitable takes far longer because you can’t develop a level of understanding or trust over email.
In my opinion, it’s just not possible to reach the same level of credibility over a broadband connection that you do sitting across the table from someone over a cup of coffee. It might seem old-fashioned and time consuming, but truly successful business people still venture from behind their computer screens, shake hands and learn about their clients and vendors first hand.
As a freelance business writer and publicist, I get nearly all of my clients by personal referral. I frequently advise clients to build a social media presence, as I have. Although I have made extensive use of the technology, almost none of my work has come as a direct result of using social media.
Running a sustainable business takes the skill of a farmer, not a computer hacker. You have to plant the seeds – lots of them. You need to nurture them and have the patience to cultivate them until they grow into a crop that can be harvested. If you don’t understand the analogy, you could be in trouble already.
While I never expect to get new clients through my social media contacts I do stay in touch with them that way. I also use various social media sites to promote my column, books I’ve authored and client work; more for exposure than anything else. If your own business is struggling, and you’re considering working with a marketing specialist, take a nickel’s worth of free advice.
Anyone insisting that you jump into the social media maelstrom without recommending a healthy dose of in-person networking is not giving you good advice. Social media has its place, but nothing will ever replace a sharp coat and tie or a hand shake to seal the deal.
Gery L. Deer is an independent business writer and marketing specialist based in Jamestown. Learn more at http://www.gerydeer.com.