Viral social media is the talk of business today, but when you get down to it, is this new phenomenon so very different from plain old networking—all the things executives have done for years by joining social and athletic clubs and trade associations; going to meetings morning, noon and night inside and outside their industries; and being active in their communities, churches, schools and, yes, in politics?
Is it really, as the younger generations would say, a new way of networking for getting to know other people in business who may become potential suppliers, customers, alliances? Why is it the talk of the town? It is because the Internet has opened up the world to what was almost impossible to reach. Being able to reach is one thing. Reaching new business is another.
There are two aspects to viral media networking. The first is the myriad of programs for people to sign up to for, some just social and some for business purposes. The other is writing or replying to articles such as this one. The same but different: putting yourself before others.
‘Only once did I find business from anyone else in the groups.’
Where viral media differs is that the contacts are “impersonal.” This may be the most negative part of relying on viral media to do what traditional networking does. It’s unlike face-to-face communication. You are not seeing people’s immediate reactions, hearing what others have to say or learning first hand what others’ businesses do that is not apparent and what problems they are currently facing. When you are getting to know someone face to face, the person and his or her business, products or service and problems take on a personality that is unique to each one. This gives the other person the opportunity to see if there is a potential to be a supplier for you; a customer of yours; or another type of associate in some type of alliance. It leads, also, to individuals recommending others they have gotten to know through similar activities.
Even traditional networking does not always pay off. I belonged to two business groups with no overlap that I can thing of. I found myself using other members as suppliers, but only once did I find business from anyone else in the groups. In one, I learned that some members had hired my competitors without even having given me a chance to bid on the job. All, it seemed, were in both groups to get leads and business from other members. It did not seem, however, that they were interested in giving others any business. The bottom line was clearly self-interest.
Same old thing
And that’s very much the case with the two social media programs I belong to. I was asked to join them as part of someone’s “list” of members. Never has anyone from either of the programs contacted me to learn what I do that would fit their or their customers’ businesses. What they wanted was simply to be able to build the size of their list. By asking me to be on their lists, my associates would be rewarded with mw client recommendations. In the words of baseball veteran Yogi Berra, online networking is “déjà vu all over again.”
Social networking is not all negative. It certainly has its good points, particularly when you compare it to traditional networking. The advantages are that, because they are on the nearly ubiquitous Internet, the social and business networking sites require less time away from the job and less expenditure for travel, hotels, meals and memberships. In a sense, the online networks are worth it, if only because the risk to you if your efforts do not pan out is much lower. You’ve lost only the time it took you to sign up (and respond to email invitations to join other members’ networks) and your privacy.
Encouraging employees to get involved in viral marketing is a whole different ball game. Some of the points are the same, but the reasons for and agin’ are different, and how to monitor its effect or waste and the results of the time put in will be difficult.
Oh, do not begin to think that being involved in a social network program does not take time and effort. It takes even more time and effort than we used to spend in traditional networking. When you sign up, either of your own volition or by invitation, and agree to be part of someone’s network, your work is only beginning. It’s up to you to field subsequent invitations. If you hope to get anything out of your involvement, it calls for working the network to find people who will help you build your business. It’s up to you to field subsequent invitations and, if you hope to get anything out of your involvement, work the network to try to find people who will help you build your business.
How important is it for business executives to be involved with social networking? As with all forms of networking, it is as important as you want to make it. It can be very positive. And, I’m here to say, it can be a waste of time.