You’re Never Too Busy for Social Media

By now there’s no excuse for not taking advantage of the amazing amount of opportunity that effective participation in Social Media can offer.  SM can and will provide a benefit to your life or business whether it’s connecting with someone who knows someone who needs a service you provide, or if it simply offers a way to hook up with a handful of new people to play poker with on Thursday evenings.  There is quite literally something in it for everyone.

But, when talking amongst colleagues, clients and prospective clients who may be a little late to the party about the benefits of Social Media, the single most common point of resistance is that participating in Facebook, Twitter and the like is an unproductive use of their time – especially when they consider all of the other ‘real world’ obligations they have pulling them in 100 different directions.  The truth is that although there is a little bit of a schedule commitment to Social Media, it isn’t nearly as much of a time-sucker as it is often perceived to be.

We all know someone who spends hours a day on Facebook.  They seemingly update their status hourly with all sorts of useless and uninteresting tidbits ranging from announcing that they are home from taking their kids to school to complaining about the old lady driving 20 miles per hour under the speed limit on a two-lane country road making them late to whatever destination they were headed for.  These types of stories – while always related in a mocking tone, are not the best use of Social Media, and this brand of obsessive behavior is the exception, not the norm.

The cool thing about Social Media is that while you choose your own level of involvement, the success you’ll derive is not proportional to the amount of time and resources you dedicate to the activity.  As I was explaining to a client during a presentation just the other day, Social Media is the type of endeavor that shows a lot of back end benefits that you don’t always see right away – and it isn’t something you can force.  Successful participation in the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Youtube is a very organic, genuine process.  The cream rises to the top and the pretenders and offenders are very easily and swiftly weeded out.

The trick to finding time for Social Media is to remove the idea that the activity as a whole is a task or a chore.  You’re using it to connect with people.  If you’re a business looking to get new clients or customers, use it to add an element of humanity to your business.  Engage people and provide value by way of free information, or simply join or start a conversation.  It’s called Social Media for a reason.

Twitter and Facebook are set up so that you can conveniently receive an email anytime you’re mentioned or something of interest comes to light – and there are external tools like TweetDeck that also make using the sites a more efficient undertaking.

When you’re starting out, plan to spend five minute, three or four times a day playing with your Social Media accounts.  Find people to follow or friend up, retweet interesting stuff you find, post interesting questions to garner responses, or respond to the posts of others.  There are many ways to use these tools – but the trick is to have fun with it.  If you don’t enjoy yourself, then don’t participate, because it will be obvious if you aren’t into it or you are only in it for self-serving reasons.  Value the experience and value the connections you’ll make and relationships you’ll create, and you’ll reap the rewards for a long time to come.

The Internet is not a Small Town in Indiana

If you’ve ever lived or owned a business in Small Town USA, you know all too well the element of community that makes small businesses go.  The patrons of the locally owned restaurants and grocery stores and auto repair shops are all very well familiar with the owners of these businesses, as they usually live in the area and it’s not uncommon for their businesses to have been around for generations.

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Source: eclectecon.typepad.com

The element of community is strengthened by the fact that more often than not, the owner of the business is also the same guy who operates the register.  Loyalty to the local economy feels good knowing their hard earned dollars are going into the pockets of another hard working man or woman that they’ve known and trusted for years.  Business owners know that these relationships are built one at a time and are the core of their survival.

So it’s only natural instinct to apply this same principle when your business ambitions expand into cyberspace.  The first thing you’re naturally inclined to do is fill the homepage of your new website with a bunch of warm and fuzzy text telling the visitor about how your business was founded by your great-grandaddy Jebediah and has been in the Podunk community for 700 years and on and on.  The problem is, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

The Internet has earned several monikers over the years, from ‘Information SuperHighway’ to ‘Global Village’.  And, while these superlatives do have a fundamental level of accuracy to them, the fact is the Internet has both connected people and divided them at the same time.

The small town appeal of your business no longer applies when it comes to operating in an online space.  Visitors to your site are there for a specific purpose – they’re looking to solve a problem.  If your site solves that problem quickly and effectively without forcing the user to jump through a whole bunch of hoops, you’ll likely earn their business in the future.  But, if you bombard them with a bunch of crap they don’t care about, they’ll probably click the ‘back’ button on their browser before the page even finishes loading.

In today’s world of e-commerce, visitors to your site don’t care about you.  They only care about what’s in it for them.  The reason is that there are so many different competing sites in most niches that it simplifies the equation to this: Your potential customers or clients will do business with whomever makes it the most convenient to do so. Period.  No one is going to buy from you just because you’re a nice guy, or because your shop has been family owned and operated since the Civil War.

So when you’re planning the navigation of your site (you do have a plan for this, right?), take yourself out of the equation for a minute and consider how your users are going to interact with the site.  Give them what they want, as conveniently as possible and you’ll be successful.  Because in today’s world, the sites who provide the best user experience are the ones who win. I guess the old saying still applies; nice guys really do finish last.

Social Media Tip for Business: Treat Facebook like an Online Rolodex

I received an email last week from a gentleman seeking advice on escaping the worker-bee lifestyle that is traditional gainful employment to pursue a more fulfilling career path.

I wrote a short response and encouraged him to friend me up on any of the social media accounts linked in my email.  His remark was one I’ve heard all too many times:

“I have been resistant to the social media sites (which I know needs to change) but I have a minimal presence on Linked-In so I can connect there.”

I don’t want to be too hard on my new friend, as this is a very common attitude amongst people who on the surface see no legitimate reason to spend a bunch of time connecting with strangers.  I understand the mindset 100% – as many people who know me will gladly point out my stubborn unwillingness to conform to the activities of Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and the like.  But, I eventually realized that the ROI for time spent online is not always quantifiable in the traditional ways of thinking.

If you are finding yourself questioning the need to participate in Social Media, consider looking at it from a different perspective.  The next time you’re at a party, or a networking event, or even simply in a social setting where you know less than half the people there (like a wedding reception), think of how many people you’d remember if 1/3 of the people you didn’t know handed you a business card.  Would you remember who gave you what?  Maybe, but if you’re like me, chances are the conversations will begin to run together and putting a face to a business card you find in your shirt pocket on laundry day will be about as likely as Kate Gosselin remembering all of her kids’ names at first glance.

And that’s where Facebook comes in.  Think of Facebook as a Rolodex on steroids.

Rolodexes – remember them silly little things?  They are filled with neat little 2″x3″ notecards (3″x4″ if you had the deluxe model) for you to write anything and everything you could cram onto that tiny white canvas about your contact – and they were even tabbed alphabetically!  What could possibly be better?

Well, 30 years ago the answer to that question is probably nothing.  But times have changed.  Remember those business cards you collected at that meeting?  With Facebook, you can look them up and become their friend, whether they are a business or an individual – and learn all about them.  Instead of a stale notecard in a Rolodex, you get a whole bunch of information about their work, their family, their interests, hobbies – all kinds of stuff that you can use to connect with them on a personal level.  Furthermore, you can also follow the people that they already connect with and meet those with similar interests and/or needs.

And not only will you learn all about them, they’ll learn all about you. Furthermore, they’re going to remember that you were the one out of all the people they handed business cards to that night to follow up.

I know what you’re thinking, that this sounds all well and good, but isn’t it more than a tad presumptuous to assume that someone wants to be your friend after one meeting?  While this might be closer to reality in social circles, it’s different online.  On the Internet, people are on there to make connections.  While it’s true that there are some that only friend up people they know in real life, the majority of people will be happy to make a new friend.  I know I always am.  I’ve met a ton of cool people through Facebook and Twitter that I’d never have had the chance to encounter otherwise.

In fact, if you enjoyed reading this or any of my other work, why not take a second and friend me up.