I bet that you’ve gained a customer or two over the years because a friend or family member made a recommendation. This kind of social networking takes place every day, on the golf course, during committee meetings, at church and in all the other “traditional places”. But in today’s busy business world, there are new ways to reach out and make business contacts. And some of them don’t even require a handshake.
MySpace, Facebook and other social networking sites allow you to connect online with people you know, and through them, to others. And how hard can it be? Our children are doing it every day! Eight years ago I was a Chamber President in Athens, Texas. My college intern at the time met her future husband online. Folks, this was Athens, Texas. It was a SMALL TOWN. Her future husband lived next door to me. When I found out that they had met online I knew at once that something extraordinary was happening on the web and that social networking would never be the same again.
Most social networking sites are not geared towards business, but they do offer you a chance to at least engage in some low-cost (or even free) marketing, which you shouldn’t pass up. But social networks are evolving and new ones are coming online each day. Personally, I recommend LinkedIn, a site primarily focused on helping businesses make business-related contacts. After you join the site (membership is fee) and create your profile, you can invite people to join your network.
As you begin to expand the list of direct contacts, and your contacts do the same, you grow your network of potential connections. The site shows your direct contacts and their contacts. That’s where the old “circle of influence rule” comes in. They say everyone is three people removed from someone famous? Take that a step further, and many of your friends and associates have business contacts that you would like to meet. This is a great place to do that! In addition, a selection of other site members who’ve worked or studied where you did also appears on your page, helping you find lost friends and colleagues.
Where LinkedIn really excels is enabling you to limit and change information visible to others and what types of contacts you’re willing to accept. It is also gaining widespread acceptance and has proven, for me personally, to be a great conduit for reconnecting with former business contacts who have moved on. Recently, I was contacted by a software developer (who had created a previous chamber’s website) and who is now working in LA for DreamWorks Animation, a major film company in Hollywood. You just never know who will turn up on your LinkedIn network!
Whether you have a burning business question, are looking to create a new business opportunity across the country or to make a new hire, being able to turn to people you know and trust can be a good thing.
Best of all, with online networking you don’t have to know which fork to use, what the dress code is or whether you have enough business cards.
By PHYLLIS SNODGRASS
President – San Marcos Chamber of Commerce