When something as popular as online social networking captures the attention of American culture, it's not long before business owners wonder how they can use it to their advantage.
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The problem is that most small business owners don't know where to begin. Is it possible to leverage sites like MySpace to benefit your business?
The good news is that social networking websites can become a critical part of your company's networking process. However, successful social networking doesn't happen overnight. In a lot of ways, online social networking is similar to traditional networking. You meet people. You exchange information. They become part of your business "network". The bottom line benefit happens when your network sends new business your way, facilitates strategic partnerships, or helps lower your expenses.
The difference between online networking and traditional networking is primarily in terms of scope - think of it as traditional marketing on steroids. Instead of creating networks through personal contact, the internet enables you to network with people around the world, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Some small business owners have found online social networking especially helpful in recruiting new employees because it gives them the ability to cast their nets much wider than traditional methods allow.
Although the sheer volume of social networking contacts can be a blessing, it can also be a curse. Traditional networking typically occurs in venues where people with similar interests gather - business seminars, tradeshows, training events, etc. Networking online makes it more difficult to narrow down your potential contacts to those who can potentially help your company. If you're not careful, you could spend hours online communicating with people who are incapable of helping your company.
The only way to stay on task is to limit your online activity to sites and contacts who are connected to your industry, or at least to sites that are frequented by others in the business community. Ultimately, trial and error is the only way to determine which sites are the most effective. In the meantime, here are some places that are worth exploring . . .
- MySpace.com - MySpace is the king of social networking websites and is probably a good place to get your feet wet. You might be surprised to learn that MySpace isn't just for teenagers. Many older Americans are also getting in on MySpace, making it a great place to troll for clients and information about the people who buy your products.
- Yahoo 360.com - Yahoo 360 is very similar to MySpace in that the people you meet may or may not be interested in building business contacts. The difference is that this social networking site is linked to other Yahoo services that may be useful including Yahoo local.
- LinkedIn.com - Linked In is a site that is specifically intended for use by business professionals. Instead of having to sift through hundreds of contacts for a diamond in the rough, the people you meet here are (in theory) interested in many of the same things you are.
- Gather.com - The strength of Gather's site is that it gives users the ability to upload articles into a searchable database. By looking up articles related to your field, you can effectively pre-qualify potential contacts with a minimal time investment.