Why your company needs to be on Facebook & MySpace
by Charlene Li
Let’s start with a fundamental premise – that all business is social and personal. Business involves people and communications and we all prize “networking” skills and opportunities. Businesses don’t strike deals with each other – people do. And we build bonds by talking about everything from sports teams and the weather to our families and hobbies.
So we as business people already engage in social networking every day, primarily through phone calls, emails, meetings, and events. The same activities take place on social networking sites – people share tidbits and moments that build relationships.
Yet, many people when they first go and experiment with a site like Facebook, don’t find it relevant to their professional lives. There are two reasons for this: 1) Your professional colleagues are likely not actively using Facebook; and 2) Most of the applications today aren’t designed for a business context.
Let’s take the first problem – you may not have many friends in these social networks. This was my problem – it was only this past spring that people I actually know started using Facebook. My friends are posting links, book reviews, the events they were going to, and suddenly, I now find myself at a near addiction with Facebook. I went to an event because five friends said they would be there. And when I saw them at the event, I congratulated them on closing a round of financing and asked about their recent vacation – all of which had been shared on Facebook. What’s the business value of staying on top of your network? As we know from experience, priceless.
Now for the second problem. Business applications on services like Facebook have yet to take off, which is why people like Tom Davenport have a hard time seeing the business value of social networking sites. I don’t blame him – after all, the most popular applications on Facebook today include such frivolous things like playing Scrabble and Vampires (where you “bite” your friends – don’t ask). That’s because these applications are being designed by 20-something developers for their 20-something friends.
But remember: The notion of creating social applications is only 6 months old – we are in the early days here. Business-oriented developers are just now waking up to the possibilities, and the audience that would use these tools are just discovering social networking. It’s going to take some time for these two sides to find each other and develop an ecosystem for business applications.
Here’s an example – LinkedIn described to me a new social application that would show events in your industry that are coming up – and who in your network is going to them. It will also show you people in that city that you could connect with. So if you know that colleagues, suppliers, partners, funders, customers, etc. are going to be gathering, you’re going to want to be there too.
There’s one final business value that companies are already seeing – and that’s reaching the people who are using social networking sites. Advertising on social networking sites won’t work well – but communicating with people, talking with the “fans” of your products on Facebook makes a lot of sense. Victoria’s Secret has badges that its enthusiasts can download on MySpace on put on their profiles for their friends to see. Ernst & Young (yes, an accounting firm!) answers questions from college students on Facebook – people they are trying hard to recruit.
So don’t write off social networking sites as merely social playgrounds for the young. Your customers, prospects, and employees are exploring and extending their relationships there. Some of you will be bolder in creating business value in these networks while others will wait for the pioneers to carve out the paths. But ignore these new communities only if you believe your customers are not there – and there are few instances where this will be the case.
Does your business embrace social networks? Or is it taking a hands-off approach?