Marilyn Robbins, a smart cookie from Liquid Dispatch ,was telling me about her company’s goals for their online presence.
“In our business, ” she said, “it used to be all about relationships. People come to us because they know us — or they used to. Now, they go online.”
I was able to assure her that it’s still about relationships. It’s just online relationships as well as physical world relationships.
That clerk at the chemical company, when the boss says to get a truck for the feedstocks, is just as likely to Twitter about it or IM someone for a suggestion as to call someone or to walk down the hall and ask. And when the answer comes, it may be based on someone’s blog or Meetup group, but that’s still about relationships.
Networking skills are just as valuable. It’s a matter of getting used to a new form.
Managers who worry about people wasting time at Ning in the guise of marketing or networking could be right. People who would, a decade or two ago, have wasted time over lunch or the Chamber meeting may waste time over LinkedIn now. People who are determined to waste time are going to waste time.
But people who used networking opportunities to learn more, share ideas, and develop good working relationships at those Chamber meetings — they’ll make good use of online opportunities now.
If you’ve grown up with Facebook, you’re probably comfortable with online networking. What if you didn’t grow up with Facebook? What if, like Marilyn, you find this sort of a new idea? How can you gain the skills you need?
- Remember that it’s not really different from face-to-face networking. The same skills are involved. Be your business-casual self, and you’ll be just as happy in your web business relationships as in your face-to-face ones.
- Give up the idea that you personally won’t be able to do it. Different people have different reasons for deciding they can’t do it — they’re too shy, too old, too lacking in computer skills — but believe me, you can do it. Start with just one place where you feel comfortable — and you can shop around to find such a place. There are plenty of abandoned profiles around the web, and you don’t have any particular responsibility to keep up with all of yours. Settle in and get to know people. You can add more sites if you feel like it later.
- When you think about where to start, consider trying a personal social media site first, till you get the hang of it and feel confident, and then search for the virtual water cooler where your industry hangs out. Just don’t share the wet T-shirt pics at the personal one in mistaken confidence that no one from work will ever see them.
- Don’t try to do everything. I promise you, you can’t keep up with all the social media sites, any more than you could hit every single conference in your industry. You can automate some things, of course, but I don’t follow-back or pay any attention to those legions that follow me at Twitter with ads vaguely related to some word I used — do you? I thought not.
- Hire someone if you need to. I don’t do social media for very many clients, but I have a couple of companies that I’ll be sociable for. I can introduce you to people in my industry who do this kind of work, too. You might have someone on your staff who’d enjoy taking on this task, or you can be like Pizza Hut and hire students to hang around your office and tweet.
If you’re ready to jump in, check out the list of social media sites from Trafikd for a starting point. It’ll be fun.