Social networking has become the new buzz word(s). More and more we are seeing symposiums and workshops about how to “capture the spirit” of social networking and use it for business; and I kept hearing the same things over and over when I attend them. They all seem to start out with the theme of social networking for business but peter-out with something like “I was in Vegas and Tweeted that I was at a club and lots of people showed up.” This is undeniably powerful stuff, but you can almost hear the frustration in the room each time the education workshop takes this turn, how exactly is this going to help with business?

I sense that tons of small business owners out there believe in the power of the internet and social networking but can’t seem to figure out how to actualize it through day to day practice. For a long time I was one of them. I knew that social networking was a very good way to reach tons of people. But I could not see how it could help with our marketing efforts. Nor could I justify spending precious company time and money on something that I did not understand how to monetize or its value to our system. That’s where I was dead wrong. Once again I was looking at this thing from a completely narrow prospective (not the first time).

I am not exactly sure how the social networking campaign Firm Media runs today unfolded. I will do my best to recount the events. Personally, social networking started slowly, I signed up for a Facebook account and only let my friends in. Yes I survived the onslaught of people friending me from high school, it was actually not that bad. I enjoyed connecting with most of them (they are reading this). Next I signed up for Twitter and did my very best to understand the importance of telling people what I was having for breakfast. With this mindset in place, both my Facebook and Twitter investments came to a slow grind. Maybe posting and tweeting once a month (if I was lucky). Around this time I had just purchased an iPhone and found that it had tons of apps that would connect me to the world of social networking. I immediately downloaded Twitter, Facebook and WordPress apps that allowed me to blog, tweet and update my status from my phone. I was like a teenage boy with a new girlfriend to text. I was sharing everything all the time with everyone. I am sure that it got a little annoying for my girlfriend when I posted “most” of our Valentine’s Day events. Nonetheless I was experiencing being “connected” like never before. Eventually that 50 people I went to high school with became 300 plus and that 10 people following me on Twitter did the same thing. People I did not even know started following me through friend’s pages because of the comments I would leave on their walls. I would go out of town on business or to a retreat and find people following and friending me that I had met the week before. I started joining fan pages for things like CEOspace, The Mankind Project and Vestige. I found that if I friended people from these pages then compelling digital relationships would spark because of our common interests. I had more in common with people I met on fan pages than I did with people from high school.

Through Social networking I found that I could research and follow organizations that I was considering supporting or investing. This is how our internet marketing business, Firm Media, started its relationship with “Children International“ and promoted “U2 on You Tube for UNICEF. “ Children’s needs are being met and that’s due to Facebook and Twitter (powerful stuff). Eventually I built a Firm Media page in Facebook and started sharing with followers all the great stuff that was going on with us (ie, charitable events, new website launches, blog post announcements and webinar invitations). What happened next was what surprised me most. We started getting RFP’s from followers for website design, SEO, video marketing and social networking consulting (without ever trying to sell a thing). At Firm Media we talk to at least 4-5 potential clients a month that come to us as a result of our social networking efforts (and I feel we have just begun). My gut says that once our numbers get large enough we will reach a tipping-point and things will start to happen exponentially (only time will tell). We stay away from any and all grow-your-numbers-quick approaches and do our very best to provide useful information to our friends, fans and followers. When we post in Facebook we try to keep it positive and informative, when we tweet we try to share useful information from articles and blog posts that we have read. The logic is that people following us may be interested in the things that we find interesting.

I have seen very interesting trends in our analytics as a result of social networking. Every time one of the Firm Media team publishes a new blog post we tweet and update Facebook about it (you may be reading this post because of that). On this day we can see a drastic spike in the traffic to our blog. This tells me that if I was a plastic surgeon who was sponsoring a Botox night and wanted to send people to my site or blog to find out more about it I could use social networking to promote the event. Most every person who attended our last webinar found out about it through social networking.

Over the last several months I have been to a bunch of symposiums, webinars and educational workshops on social networking (most not very impressive, but a few of the events were really well organized and fruitful). Next time Jose Caballer (@evilbusinessman) hosts “Church of Twitter” make sure you attend (very informative). Also keep your eye out for anything Chris Husong (@chrishusong) is doing for Real Voice Media. His Q&A education workshop was well worth the time spent.

In summary I would like to conclude by saying that what I learned was that trying to “capture the spirit” of social networking to use it for business is what I was doing wrong. Now that I think about it anytime I have ever tried to use a powerful tool for its unintended purpose it has usually backfired on me. None of us need to do anything but honestly use social networking (give to it and it will give back to you). We spend thousands of dollars a year on prospecting and drip mailing campaigns that help people and businesses see that Firm Media is a real brick and mortar business that pays attention to detail. Social networking is just another medium to support our efforts and it’s FUN!

Christopher Suchanek is a founding partner of Firm Media and oversees all sales and marketing.

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