Friday, December 6, 2013

Social Media vs Social Networking

Let's say you've decided to add traditional business networking to your marketing mix. You find a couple of local groups, schedule the time and show up at the meeting with a pocket full of business cards and a well rehearsed "30-second commercial". Now what? Do you rush around handing out your cards to everyone else in the room (Spamming)? Do you monopolize every conversation talking about yourself and all the quirky, fun things you do? Do you give your commercial and then sit in the corner waiting for people to approach you? Is your idea of relationship building squirming in your seat waiting for someone to shut up so you can talk about your business? Probably not. And yet this is precisely how many people try to use "social media" to attract new customers and grow their business.

Back in the days when AOL was credible and MySpace was cool, and Facebook and LinkedIn were just getting started, this whole online genre was called "Social Networking". The recent movie fictionalizing the dawn of Facebook was named "The Social Network". And that is what they were about, people connecting with other people socially online. There are over a billion people using Facebook alone today, and dozens of other popular social systems online as well. So its not surprising that before too awfully long, businesses and their marketing arms moved in. This is not entirely a bad thing. Someone has to pay for these things to exists, and advertising is a well established way of funding "free" systems. It wasn't long after the arrival of the marketers, however, before things morphed from "social networking" into "social media". And the distinction is anything but trivial.

"Networking" is all about establishing connections and building relationships. Its the sort of thing salespeople understand and gravitate toward. "Media", on the other hand, is principally a means of mass communication. A way of taking your message and broadcasting it to as large an audience as possible. A vehicle for advertising. And it is the province not of salespeople but of marketeers.

These days it seems like everyone is clamoring for instructions for "using social media to grow my business". And there is no shortage of consultants and trainers stepping up to meet the demand. Hey, at least someone is making money on social media! And what advice do we usually get? Be active. Post cool, interesting things about yourself - often. Slip in ads for your business every now and then but don't overdo it. Make your profile look like this. Say that. Avoid doing this other thing. Wait till someone says something related to what you do and then pounce. More followers is better than less followers. In short, good marketing advice and bad networking advice. And manipulative.

Let's go retro and start thinking of it as social networking again and leave social media to the social media consultants. Start to apply the same principles and approaches you would use at a networking meeting. Don't wait to be found, reach out to others. Don't just connect with the people you know, or hope people will find you, make the effort to find them. Connect with people you share meaningful common interests with, business or personal, and build on that. Build relationships, whether or not they ever lead to a sale. Have fun and let it show. Be yourself. Look for quality connections instead of just a lot of them. Give back, contribute, offer to help.

I've taken this advice to heart recently and its making a noticeable difference in how I use Facebook and LinkedIn and for the first time ever it is even producing some real business results. Give it a try yourself and see if networking doesn't beat advertising by 2 lengths.

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