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There seems to me to be an increase in media activity regarding social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Ecademy etc. These social tools were initially of benefit to the individual. They were used as a way of staying in touch with family, friends and contacts. Social media has now developed way beyond these possibilities. It can also be used to develop communities that have a shared interest or issue, connect specialists from all over the world and, increasingly, connect suppliers with potential customers…

During the last couple of years these social tools have increasingly been adopted by businesses. Sole traders and smaller companies have been (as usual) quicker on the uptake here. But more and more, larger organisations have been having a look at what these tools can do for their businesses. Some (Ford, Innocent, Compare the Market.com) have done a decent job in the B2C environment. Few, if any are doing anything of note in the B2B sector.

Within the last few of months I have been to a couple of seminars on using social media. Most of the attendees seemed to be interested in two things: 1. How do you use these things? and 2. How do I get more business by using them? I think the last question is the wrong one to be asking.

I’m a bit of an early adopter when it comes to social media. Maybe it’s because of my ‘techie’ background or possibly that I am also a small business looking to expand my client base. I have found social networking a useful way to stay in touch with clients (and potential clients), define my area of expertise through the help and advice (free and without obligation) I offer on line and to find new contacts that offer complimentary services or may be a potential supplier to me. What I have not done is to shout about what I do and to continually ask if the people on the internet want to buy some. This is where many of the larger organisations are going wrong with their experiments with social media. All too often social media is wrongly seen as a new marketing communications channel through which to broadcast the same old sales messages and special offers.

The clue is in the title: ‘social media’ – i.e. you need to be social. These tools should encourage conversation, dialogue and relationship building, just like a good salesperson does. Then, and only then, having built an element of credibility, trust and value can you look to new business potential. You wouldn’t go into a new pub and start shouting out to everyone present that you make great widgets and that you will offer a 10% discount to the first five people to put their hands up. So, if you mingle in the virtual world (or are thinking of starting) please don’t try this approach here. Start a dialogue – a two way communication. Don’t start shouting about special offers and widgets to all and sundry around you.

Otherwise your brand, image and reputation – around the world – will be gone in moments.

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