My March, 2009 Montana InBusinessMonthly column
I was “friended” last week on Facebook. An e-mail showed up in my in-box saying that someone had “friended” me and, if I responded, I could be their friend. Problem is, I had pretty much forgotten about Facebook. I started a profile, and one at MySpace, another social networking site, to see how they worked, but the most I did was post a photo of my dog in place of my own photo.
In other words, I’ve never taken Facebook or MySpace very seriously. Social networking is currently one of the biggest traffic draws on the Internet – with Facebook accounts numbering close to 200 million, MySpace and hundreds of other smaller sites.
The draw of social networking is finding people: old classmates, new people, old friends and neighbors. And the ability to quickly and easily put up a profile with music, graphics, video and a blog on what is essentially your own free Web site makes social networking “work.”
I have my own business Web site and blog, and so social networking has been a low priority for me, and until I got “friended” last week by a local business I frequent, my Facebook page had been dormant for some time.
The personal angle to these social networking sites is obvious to me, but I got to thinking: What about the business world? I searched for “Missoula” on both Facebook and MySpace and found a wide range of businesses who use social networking: radio stations, cultural organizations, restaurants, real estate brokers, bankers, building contractors, computer consultants and so on.
So I sent out a batch of messages asking how businesses use social networking, and I even stopped a few people I know on the sidewalk – the oldest form of networking – and asked them. A few that I contacted got back to me and told me about their experiences.
There are hundreds of Facebook and MySpace pages for Missoula-area businesses, but Linkedin, a networking site just for businesses and organizations, has them both beat in terms of raw numbers. LinkedIn is strictly for business, and it charges for use, so I’m mostly going to cover Facebook and MySpace.
Barbara Theroux at Fact & Fiction told me the business is very active online. It’s had a Web site for 10 years, a MySpace page for four, and is working on Facebook and a blog.
She wrote that “MySpace seems best at linking authors and bookstores. Our friends are a great mix of authors, publishers, libraries, booksellers and readers. I must admit that my biggest surprise when we were first ‘live’ was all the authors that were definitely connecting to readers through this network. … Publishers told us that most booksellers blog or recommend books all the time – just go online with your shelf talkers!”
Recently, at the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute, a presenter gave a social networking demonstration for bookstores and showed off a user-friendly video camera with the capability to easily upload video clips. Theroux got one for business use and is learning to use it.
The fact that trade organizations are keying into social networking and helping their member businesses was also discovered by the Missoula Art Museum during an American Association of Museums webinar.
The AAM showed that major museums and galleries use social networking to promote visitor and educational experiences. The Missoula Art Museum has had a Web site for years, and Linden How, director of visitor services at MAM, e-mailed that she established both Facebook and MySpace pages for the museum.
She wrote that “it’s important for MAM to establish our presence with young people. Our mission includes education through contemporary art, and we strive to reach new populations and foster the perception of museums as valuable places of learning.”
She is using Facebook and MySpace to market Artini, the free reception and gallery talk that takes place on the third Thursday of every month, and says that many artists have “friended” MAM and vice versa. She’s working on more interactive use of their sites, and wants to promote discussion and video and photo uploads in the future.
Several other businesses responded to me and wrote that they either “do” social networking now or are considering it for the future, but some aren’t sure how to make it work in a business sense.
I think Facebook, MySpace and other sites can be useful for business, albeit with limits, but you need to learn a few things to effectively use these services.
First, if you’re going have business cards printed, you should do more than put them on the corkboard at the grocery store; you’ve got to hand them out to everyone and talk them up. So, if you’re going to join a social networking site you need to actively search, “friend,” link and post new material to give people a reason to come back.
With Linkedin, you need to join established groups – or start your own – in order to really make use of the site. The monthly cost might be off-putting, but if you’re serious about business networking, it seems like it’s the place to be. And if you’re in a specific trade or profession, look for a social networking site that is specific to it: banking, real estate, etc.
Second, keep business and the photos of your wild party separate; anything you post can show up where you don’t want it, so don’t post anything you don’t want a Google search to turn up before a job interview or business deal.
Third, use a professional-sounding e-mail address for your log-in. “Partycowboy” will not leave a good impression; your business name or your full name will give a good impression.
If you decide to dive into social networking for business but you’re at a loss on how to set up a profile, find your local teenager and ask for help; chances are he or she is already using it. Or, go to the library or bookstore and find a book or use the online help within each service.
So hopefully I’ll get around to spiffing up my online profiles and maybe start using LinkedIn, too. I just got another Facebook e-mail from an old friend in Denver; she asked if I had gone to the University of Montana, because she couldn’t tell if it was me. She knew my name, but was unsure because of the dog photo on my page. I suppose I have some things to learn about effective social networking.