Tag Archive for 'online customer communities'

How to be a failure at networking

There are two terms floating around these days that I’ve gone on record as thinking they’re not useful. One is “social media,” which is intended to describe online communities, but is actually the technology that allows us to do that. As you may know, I prefer intuitive terms, which is why I am on a one-man crusade, when speaking of the business application, to replace social media with online customer communities.

The other term is “social networking.” There are two problems with this term: 1) It’s redundant; and 2) It is typically used as an alternative to online networking. Humans are a gregarious species and millennia before we could go online we were networking.

Sadly, as true as the last sentence is, too many humans still don’t get it when it comes to how to behave in face-to-face networking situations. I wonder if online networking has harmed our in-person manners. Here are a couple of the most egregious mistakes people make:

1. Not understanding that networking is not ALL about you. As my friend and galactic guru on networking, Ivan Misner, has taught the world, “Givers gain.” I also like this passage from Ecclesiastes: “Cast your bread upon the water and in time it will come back to you.” Put someone else first and prepare to be swamped by the goodwill - and business - that will follow.

2. How you behave around people who can refer you to prospects is directly connected to how motivated they will be to refer you. If you’re habitually late or are intermittently reliable, that’s how to guarantee no referrals. As Confucius said over 2,000 years ago about how to live a successful life, “Be in reality what you appear to be.”

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I visited with Ivan Misner, founder of Business Network International (BNI), and we talked about the Top 10 things to do if you want to make sure you are a failure at networking. We had a lot of fun with this list, and I think you’ll enjoy the lessons and the energy. Take a few minutes to listen, and be sure to leave your own addition to Ivan’s list.

Think online communities instead of social media

“Social media” is a new term for one of the oldest of human activities: communication.

For individuals, the term is completely intuitive: connecting and sharing through on-line technologies. And when platforms like Facebook and MySpace were built, the Digital Natives (part of Gen X and all of Gen Y) strapped this latest craze to a rocket and blasted it into the popular culture stratosphere.

But for a business, a social media strategy isn’t about being intuitive, it’s about return on investment. Consequently, the term could be a stumbling block for businesses on two levels.

1. Decision-makers older than the Digital Natives, not appreciating the time and resources spent on something called “social,” might say, “If you want to visit, go see your grandmother. I need you to sell something today.”

Indeed, even this industry’s leaders have yet to produce anything but red ink for their fish-eyed bankers and long-suffering investors.

2. The bloom is already falling off the public relations rose of the popular social media sites as the mainstream media shifts from ga-ga over the popular culture fruit-of-the-month to more critical reporting on business model viability, security, privacy and other issues. Therefore, business owners and managers may, unfortunately, associate challenges of the social media industry with the importance of building and serving on-line communities dedicated to their own customers.

So, what’s the answer? Here are two thoughts:

1. In a business application, let’s replace “social media” with the more accurate term, “business networking on-line” or how about, “building on-line communities”? This isn’t, as Shakespeare would say, a rose by any other name. Any business activity that is as essential as building on-line communities is becoming deserves its own name.

2. Businesses large and small should focus appropriate resources on the essential 21st century marketing strategy of creating and nurturing on-line communities where they connect with customers and prospects who hang out there because they agree with the values of the hosting business and benefit from the value they find there.

As eBay became just another marketplace in the clouds, social media will morph into just another wrench in your marketing tool box. But the on-line communities your business builds will increasingly be the way you establish quality relationships with customers. In the future, more customers will connect with your business through on-line communities you build and serve than from any other marketing source.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I interviewed two of my Brain Trust members who are community building experts, and I also went solo with my thoughts on social media vs building customer communities. Jeff Zbar, Chief Home Officer and I talked about small business and social media, then Chuck Martin, president of NFI Research, revealed some very exciting research on business adoption of social media. Take a few minutes to listen to these conversations to help you build your business’ on-line communities. And, as always, be sure to leave your thoughts.

My interview with Chuck Martin:
My interview with Jeff Zbar:
My thoughts on this issue:

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