Business Tech: How to Win with Social Networking


Some minor celebrities could get away with the occasional "LOL! TOAST!" tweet. Some of the major ones could post one of those a week and not lose a lot of followers. For the rest of us, "LOL! TOAST!" is not a social media win. What constitutes a win? Whether your company is publicly or privately held, ask the question: If I spend company time on social media, what sorts of activities could I justify to a stockholder?

For me, the two best answers are brand awareness (part of Marketing) and product availability (part of Sales). Using that metric, let's talk about social media and your business. Please remember as we explore this topic: winning is bringing in business or retaining business. If I only need three more customers to make my year, using social networking to achieve that goal is a win.

Google+ Stream: This Week's Fake Holidays

Humor is a great tool. Let's say your company sells cosmetics and you decide to build brand awareness by publishing a weekly list of fake holidays, complete with people who are made up in celebration. Being savvy social media people, we post pictures to a Flickr account, we put up YouTube videos, and we pick one or more outlets, like Google+ to tie these things together. Good news: humor is very effective in Marketing. Bad news: the chance of offending an ethnicity or religious group while publishing fake holidays is very high. The chance of being consistently funny is very low. The chance of being "unfollowed" will approach 100%, while the chance of actually damaging the company's reputation is also high. At least you can fall back on the fact that humor is a very time consuming business, so you will cost your business a lot of otherwise productive time pursuing a humor strategy. If you can find someone who can actually make this work, hold on to them with both hands. They are rare.

While a select few can make this sort of strategy work, the rest of us need another approach

Facebook Group: Occupy Topics

To borrow from Occupy Wall Street and its kindred, you want to be topically in the 99%. In other words, pick a topic and stay with it — most of the time. A good example here is Tim O'Reilly. The vast majority of his posts are on technology and how it connects to society. I don't drop his stream because he posts the occasional vacation slide show. So long as he stays 99% (okay, 80% will do) on topic, I'll keep reading him. How does his topic help him win? Well, his company, O'Reilly, publishes tech books. Tim establishes himself as a tech expert who sees tech in a broader perspective. That's excellent branding. Tim wins.

LinkedIn Poll: 100% of Voters Expect the Expected

We like a certain amount of "exactly what I expected" in our lives. When I follow a celebrity, even a niche celebrity, I expect their on screen personality to translate, at least loosely, into their social media personality. So, when I read what Felicia Day posts, I expect it to wander between gaming, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Her brand is her personality. She understands that we expect her to sell us on wanting to see her on Eureka, or her web series: The Guild, or Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog, or even to re-watch Buffy just to find her in some of the very crowded scenes in the last season. The place where she fails most is when she actually moves from Marketing (I'm interesting) to the more blatant sales (Watch me Tuesday). The "Guess What Show I Was Just Taping" posts are the ones she just doesn't do a good job presenting. She wins when she showcases her personal interests,not her professional activities.

Why do we let her wander between loosely related topics while expecting people like Tim to stay more focused? It comes down to expecting the expected. You don't follow niche publishers expecting eclectic takes, because we want to believe they are as focused as their product line. We don't follow niche celebrities expecting relentlessly serious discussions. We expect to be entertained. Heddy Lamar may have invented radio-hopping torpedo guidance (look it up: ), but if she were alive and blogging, she would have to swim against expectations to get people to follow her as a technologist.

The big exception to the "on topic" rule, for the famous and non-famous, are the socially responsible posts. When I follow someone and they go off topic to talk about relief efforts in Haiti or raising money for cancer research, they gain points for going off message. We want to feel a connection in social media. We want to connect to people we admire. When you veer away from the thing which makes me read your tweets/ posts / streams / what-have-you, it should be for something that reinforces believing that you deserved to be followed.

The rest of us should take note: Just because you aren't making the talk show circuit, doesn't mean you aren't a celebrity. People who use Delphi will perk up if the name "David I" is mentioned. In that circle, he is a celebrity. We have our own, of course. For those familiar with Tim Holland, who passed away recently, his name would certainly attract a certain crowd. Every industry has minor celebrities that have a brand built into their name. These folks aren't amongst the universally recognized, but that's not the point. Business wins at social media if it attracts the right attention. You might be a big enough star in your niche to attract those whom your company needs to attract. You may already be a winner.

Blogosphere News: Dual Keyboards for Stereo Typing

Besides the sales and marketing reasons for using social media, there's another important use: battling stereotypes. Even lawyers make lawyer jokes. Even insurance people admit to being bored by insurance talk. When breaking those sorts of expectations is important, you may have to take that rough swim upstream and use the Internet to break the assumptions. The stereotype for "headhunters" is bad, bad, bad. I've met a few that reinforce that sour reputation, but mostly, I've met people who are doing a tough and necessary job. I'll dare to say it publicly: I like a lot of the recruiters I have met.

So, how does a person transform their business presence away from the presumed negative? Let's look at Elkie Holland, a recruiter, for an example. Prospectus, her company, has done industry interviews and pushed them out to the community for free, they twitter on topics beyond "this job is now open, call us" as a way to produce outreach. Elkie has defined herself as a person who has ties to the community. It helps her defeat the stereotype. She wins.

Sometimes, the goal isn't to beat a bad rap. Sometimes it is about having "no rap" at all. Social networking is a tool for rising above the status of non-entity. Let me tell you a pre-www story about me and networking. I worked at <company deleted> which used systems from <vendor name deleted> whose tech guy, <name deleted>, had promised to write something for the IPUA Journal. He didn't want to, and I wanted to break into writing about technology, so I offered to do him a favor and write an article. That allowed him to back out while still offering something to fill out the magazine. A win-win.

Shortly afterwards, I went on a job interview at <company deleted> and was asked: "How do we know that you wrote these code samples? How do we know you are really technical?" I looked over at the interviewer's desk and spotted the IPUA Journal. "Turn to page 17," I said. "That's my article." And, wouldn't you know it? I got the job. The single worst job I ever got, but still, a good example of networking.

Taking the longer view, writing for Monica Giobbi at IPUA led to speaking at Spectrum (and OSDA and IOD and others) which led to writing for Database Trends which led to writing for Spectrum and other magazines. I used social networking to identify myself to you. Doing that has connected me to all of you. That sounds like a win to me.


Charles Barouch is the CTO of HDWP, Inc. He is also a regular contributor to International Spectrum Magazine, a former Associate Editor for both Database Trends and for Gateways Magazine, a former distance learning Instructor for CALC. He is presently the Past President of the U2UG. Mr. Barouch has presented technology and business topics in front of hundreds of companies, in a wide range of product and service categories. He is available for on-site speaking and consulting engagements in and out of the United States.

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Mar/Apr 2012