Do You Have Time for Social Networking?

“Social media isn’t the end-all-be-all, but it offers marketers unparalleled opportunity to participate in relevant ways. It also provides a launch-pad for other marketing tactics. Social media is not an island. It’s a high-power engine on the larger marketing ship.” — Matt Dickman, American marketer and blogger.

“Networking is not about hunting. It is about farming. It’s about cultivating relationships.” — Dr. Ivan Misner, American author.

“The most successful marketer becomes part of the lives of their followers. They follow back. They wish happy birthday. They handle problems their customers have with products or service. They grow their businesses and brands by involving themselves in their own communities.” — Marsha Collier, American speaker and business author.

Networking—the development and maintenance of beneficial relationships between likeminded individuals—is an important means of maximizing success and productivity at all professional levels. Among other things, it can:

• Help businesses find, make, and close deals.
• Provide a resource for companies to locate talent.
• Make it easier for individuals to find jobs.
• Connect collaborators and joint venture partners.
• Boost marketing efforts in a way that’s both easy and cost-effective.

Networking is a basic human habit that’s been with us since prehistory, but the evolution of the World Wide Web has transformed it into something uniquely widespread, if not unprecedented. Facebook, the premier online social network, claims over 300 million members these days—not much less than the population of the United States. It’s an order of magnitude easier than it’s ever been to stay in contact with people, even if you never see them face-to-face or ever speak to them directly.

It’s no wonder that the business world has latched onto the potential offered by the online social networking sphere, advancing corporate agendas not just on generalized communities like Facebook and Twitter, but on specialized business communities like LinkedIn and VisiblePath as well.

From a business perspective, I believe that participation in social networks can be well worth the time required to cultivate the relationships it offers, especially if you’re an independent entrepreneur. The operative word here is “can.” First of all, you have to choose your venues wisely, and do your best to separate your business efforts from personal interactions. They can intersect to some extent, but don’t ever let the purely social overwhelm the professional. Otherwise, you may end up wasting your time on efforts that do nothing to help you professionally. This can absolutely kill your productivity.

I’m not saying that you should completely avoid non-professional networking sites; in fact, I find Twitter especially useful for keeping in touch with my network and for sharing information. Furthermore, depending on your business plan, Facebook et al. are excellent venues for marketing directly to specific consumer groups. However, LinkedIn and similar business-oriented communities are your best bets for profitable, productive social networking if you’re looking to accomplish most of the goals I outlined at the beginning of this blog entry. After all, that’s what they were designed for.

And don’t forget, with this type of business network, you’ve got a knowledge base composed of literally millions of professionals of all kinds. One thing I’ve recently taken advantage of on LinkedIn is their poll feature; in fact, last time I blogged about the results of my recent poll, “During which period of the day do you feel most productive?”

Which brings up another point: blogging. It’s not networking as such (at least not in the sense of Facebook or LinkedIn), but blogging is a valid and valuable form of social media. Maintaining a regular blog is a great way to attract attention, get your ideas out there, and, ultimately, develop long-term business relationships that profit all parties involved. People are hungry for information in their fields of interest, and more and more, they’re looking for it online because of its ease of availability. What a great way to connect with others, if you’re serious and willing to put a little effort into it!

I’ve already mentioned that you must choose your networking venues wisely, so that they’ll profit rather than distract you, but let me list a few other caveats. Most importantly, I think, you have to be willing to invest the time necessary to make it all work. For example, on your own pages you need to:

• Regularly create and upload content.
• Respond to posts quickly and constructively.
• Congratulate your contacts on birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, and the like.
• Post polls and surveys and take the responses seriously.

In addition, frequent other people’s pages so you can bring yourself to their attention:

• Ask questions—and provide answers.
• Share your experience.
• Post your opinions.
• Respond to their surveys and polls.
• Invite them to visit your pages.
• Leave your own links behind.

All this will take a minimum of 3-4 hours a week to do properly, depending on the number of social networks you work with. If you can’t handle it yourself, delegate it.

To minimize of your SM time expenditure:

• Focus tightly on what you want to accomplish with your SM, and put strategies in place to achieve those goals.
• Schedule a regular time to work on SM, and stick to it. Stop when it’s time to stop.
• Turn off your email alerts and similar distractions.
• Use other technology to make life easier; for example, you can monitor SM sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn with a simple program like Tweetdeck.
• Use automatic scheduling features to post content, as I’ve done on Twitter with my productivity tips.

One more thing: beware of Obsessive-Compulsive Social Media Disorder, which I’ve blogged about before. It’s easy to fall into the habit of compulsively checking SM pages and obsessively posting when you should be doing something else. Fight this tendency. There are very few things on any social networking site that require your immediate attention.

To answer the question headlining this blog: Yes, I think you do have time for social networking, and in fact you should make time for it—but only if you’re determined to use it correctly. Remember: social networking is a tool, just like your Blackberry or iPad, so use it as such. Don’t forget that it can take over your life and damage your productivity if you let it. But make it work for you, as I have, and the sky’s the limit!



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