Recently Backbone Magazine’s Peter Wolchak asked the question on their LinkedIn group: Does social media actually benefit business?
After reading a few of the responses from others I started answering the question from my point of view. Once I realized that I was 750 words into my reply I realized it has to be a linked blog post rather than a reply on the group. Here is my take on it.
In the army we had a philosophy that we would achieve our goals by any means necessary and using any and all tools at our disposal, but those tools and means would be different for each mission… as they would be different for other teams. As such it folly to think or to believe that Social Media is either right or wrong for all businesses and all business models. What will be right for Paul’s business (and which he swears by!) is not nearly as important to Dr. Chalk, who believes that spending time on that would take away from better opportunities. Guess what… they are both right!
At SWMI Consulting Group we would never use Facebook to advertise. It is just not the medium for us. We feel now (and have for the five years that I have been on it) that it is great for friends, for personal (i.e.: social) events including recreation and such… from what I can tell there are also people who make new friends, find hookups, and whatever else they may use it for. Apparently it has been used by rioters, looters, and protesters around the world. It is just not for us – at least not for our business. That is not to say that I do not use it, I just do not use it (or at least actively use it) to promote the business.
However the question was not about Facebook, it was about Social Media. I have a Facebook account of course, and it is linked to my blog and Twitter account, but I have not invested any time in that, nor would I because for my business Facebook advertising or even promotion does not make sense. Nobody who needs to hire someone for what we do sets out by saying ‘Wow, we need to find a really high-end boutique IT consulting and training firm… let’s check out Facebook.’
While we do not actually advertise anywhere, it is largely agreed that the strongest asset to our company is my public image (including my writings), and as such my articles and presentations are posted to Twitter – mostly because a good percentage of my followers are interested in what I have to say… and occasionally someone reads something that I have written which leads to work.
I use YouTube sparingly, but occasionally I get into the mood where I want to record a video demo, so I use that to link from my blog.
It is hard to understand why any professional would not use LinkedIn. My CV is two pages long because I have been given professional advice from people I trust that it should not be longer. However on my CV there is a URL for my LinkedIn profile, which has much more detail and of course would be much longer than two pages (or twenty). While I do not keep it as current as I do my CV, I do know what people look at it. As a contractor who is the public professional face of my company it is to be expected that before anyone hires us they would check me out… and by doing so on LinkedIn they will have a much clearer sense of my accomplishments and credentials than they would either on Facebook or Twitter… or my two-page CV.
All of these and many more fall into the category of social media, and they are all different in their own way. Facebook (we have all seen the movie) started out in a university dorm room as a way to connect with people you are friends with (it has obviously ballooned beyond that). LinkedIn is obviously more professional, and is a way to connect with people for business – whether you are looking to hire someone or simply ask a professional question. Twitter… well, Twitter seems to be all things to all people and companies… it does however do very well at enforcing Shakespeare’s concept that ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’. You can say anything you want on any topic… as long as you keep it to 140 characters. Of course, you can include links so if your 140 grabs someone they can read the whole article (which is likely how you got here, if the statistics are to be believed!).
Does social media really have a positive impact on business? Absolutely, but it can also have adverse affects as well, and that is why there are people out there who specialize in helping to craft your company’s message. While we have not gone that route, we do have a weekly meeting at which we discuss many things, among which is what our message has been and should be… and how it has been perceived. As Theresa has become more and more involved in the company she has started to play a more important part in crafting, targeting, and delivering that message using (among other tools) social media.
As with so many other tools social media can be good or bad, depending on how it is used. I know there are companies who rely on it and who would go under without it; I know there are companies that hardly touch it and do just fine. However there are also cases where social media has ruined companies… either because their jilted clients campaigned against them, or because they misused the media.
All of these show how powerful social media really is, and why most major companies seem to at least have a social media presence. If you are unhappy with WingNut Airlines try mentioning your dissatisfaction with them on Twitter, and it seems likely you will get a message to the effect of ‘We are sorry to hear about your experience. If you Follow us we can DM you and see if we can help.’ In an era where the general consensus is that customer service is in the toilet, that is a great way for companies to get back in the game. I know… it has worked for me!
Social Media is neither good nor bad… it is a tool. Learn how to use it, or don’t play with it. Your business just may depend on it!