Article: Using Social Media to Improve Your Business

[[This article was written for The Association for Women in Communications, Denver Chapter newsletter…]]
Let’s start out with a spontaneous quiz (yes, you were warned that there’d be days like this!). How did you meet your current friends and colleagues? How did you bump into that perfect business partner or investor? How did you find out that a certain person was indeed looking to launch a joint venture and that your skills and experience made you perfect for the task? More to the point, how did you ever figure out that Company X was the perfect target for your sales and marketing efforts and then actually track someone in that organization down?
I accomplish these tasks – and many more – on a daily basis by utilizing online social networks. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve been involved in the business world for the last decade, sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and on and on and on. In fact, there are so many social networking sites that I have reached the point of social networking fatigue and refuse to join any new ones, regardless of who invites me, but that’s another story.
What’s amazing about being plugged into a professional networking site like LinkedIn is that it’s impossible for me to imagine how I ever found colleagues and new partners before I had access to the millions of professionals profiled and linked on the site. It’s not a simple database of resumes, though. I don’t see everyone on LinkedIn because of its smart implementation of what the Facebook gang calls “the social graph”: I only see people who I have linked to, the people they’ve linked to, and the people they’ve linked to. Three degrees of separation and that’s enough that my “network” encompasses millions of people, and for any of them, I can request an introduction from a shared friend and establish a connection. You need a contact at Disney’s Imagineering group, or someone in marketing at General Motors, Qwest or Boeing? Someone in the Department of the Interior or working in an embassy in Africa? No problem, they’re all in my network (and if you and I were linked, they’d be in yours too).
LinkedIn, Facebook (a more social and casual networking site than LinkedIn, insanely popular with the college crowd) and MySpace (much more sloppy, but the single busiest site on the entire Internet, mostly focused on high school kids) all demonstrate the value of not just who you know and can memorialize with “links”, but who they know too.
An example can make this powerful. Eve Fisher, who asked me to write this brief article, doesn’t know that I’m good friends with key people inside some of the venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, and also know a ton of people in the book publishing world too. If she needed to connect with a VC firm or was contemplating writing a book, she might never think to ask me who I know in that space. With automated networking tools, however, she could search for people in her network who know someone at, say, Kleiner-Perkins or Addison-Wesley, and up my name would pop, automatically. Think that’s not valuable? Think how many friends and associates all of your friends have already, and how you even knowing those people can dramatically extend your reach and ability to get in touch with the people you need to know so you can take your career to the next level.
Now, to be fair, social networking is like Orwell’s “soma” and there are people who are way deep into the zone, spending hours a day fiddling with their social networking profiles, updating their status hourly, adding people, sending bulletins, and so on, but for every person like that, I know two or three that judiciously use these tools to improve their efficiency and effectiveness at their jobs. As with anything, you need to draw the line where you feel the most comfortable and stay within your comfort zone. Yes, there are weirdoes out there on the net and I always counsel that you err on the side of privacy. I should know: I write the #1 blog for parenting (Google “parenting blog” and you’ll see me in the top slot) and have done for years, but I never mention my children by name.
The antithesis of all this paranoia, however, is Twitter. I’ve been a skeptic of this one-line so-called microblogging site for a long time, but a few months ago I hooked up and started broadcasting tiny updates regarding what I was doing, where I was going, and general news bulletins about my daily activities. Amazingly, over 100 people – mostly friends, thank goodness – are now following my twitter updates and I even plan informal lunch rendezvous with the service now. You might not be comfortable having complete strangers know where you are and what you’re doing, but so far I have to admit that it does have its [admittedly voyeuristic] charms… 🙂
Whether you jump head-first into the Twitter world or just dip your toe into the deep waters of LinkedIn, there’s no question in my mind that the more you get involved in the digital world, the more success you’ll have and the easier you’ll find the transition to “Internet 2.0” and “Business 2.0” as we move fully into the 21st century!

You can find Dave Taylor everywhere online, from his popular business blog to his LinkedIn profile, his MySpace page and even the daily stream of his life on Twitter.

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