Over dinner with friends, my wife and I provided a social networking talk of sorts. Ruth is a leading Food Blogger and I've been posting on this site since 2005. Consider us as true believers and practitioners of the value of open online conversations.
We embraced social networking after reading the Cluetrain Manifesto back in 2002. Our friends are starting to explore social network sites to help their business and wanted to know more. In actual fact they're skeptical of the bottom line benefits of getting engaged in online conversations.
Here are some of the points I used to convince them:
Connect with People (a.k.a customers) - Tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter allow a business person to connect with people, regardless of whether they are current or potential users of your product or service. These individuals are already online and having conversation with others, seeking advice and counsel to solve a problem. Being there at that moment will allow you to inexpensively convert that person into a loyal long term customer.
Get a Pulse for your Brand - Most conversations on these sites are searchable. You can very read what's being said about your company or its brands. For example you can word search on Twitter by clicking here.
Recruit - These sites are great sources for talented people to bring into your organization as employees. You can search candidates on LinkedIn for example.
Being there first (or second) - There is competitive advantage in being the first or second of your peers to build a beachhead in Social Networking. Customers already enlightened by Cluetrain will evangelize your product/service if you're part of the conversation. It becomes even more compelling as Social Networking crosses the chasm from early adopters into the mass market.
Many companies already have conversations with their customers and suppliers. Here are examples of companies getting in early by operating a Company Blog - Microsoft, GM, Google, Clorox, J&J. Or others engaged in Twittering - Carnival Cruise Lines, Jetblue, Dell.
Did we convince our friends of the many immediate benefits of Social Networking? I'd like to think so. But the reality is that for most business people, they see it as easier to invest time in more traditional pursuits with their customers. But for others, I expect that tools such as LinkedIn and Blogger will soon become as important to a company as their corporate websites, trade show booths or 1-800 numbers.