For decades, businesses and consumers have relied on the local chamber of commerce as a place to network for sharing ideas with other business owners, learning about new business strategies, and meeting potential customers. Regular face-to-face interactions have always been the staple of chamber of commerce meetings, and they always will be. But with today’s increasingly virtual world, face-to-face meetings aren’t the only option, and to many people they aren’t even the best option.
The Internet has opened the door to a much larger virtual network of business people, and social media networking is the way to connect with those people. Social media is in many ways like an online chamber of commerce, except that you don’t have to drive to a meeting at a specific time, you don’t have to pay annual dues, you don’t have to suffer through boring presentations, and you don’t have to come up with interesting, witty banter off the cuff to impress people and make yourself memorable.
With social media you can come as you are, whenever you want to, and interact with only the people you want to, with plenty of time and opportunity to plan what you want to say.
The three main social media portals that most people have heard of are Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Each of these sites offers some similar features and options, All three sites are free to join, and anyone can create a profile and network with others. But although many people belong to all three, each of them is distinctly unique in how members interact with each other. Twitter is like a tremendous nightclub, where there are many different types of people mingling around, chatting back and forth about whatever interests them at the moment. You can even find famous and notable people on Twitter, handing out opinions and sound bites left and right. Twitter can be exciting, enjoyable, mindless, and fun, but it isn’t exactly the best option if your social networking goal is to grow your business.
Facebook is a step up from Twitter in that there are more restrictions and guidelines about who can and cannot access your information and communicate with you. Facebook is more like a neighborhood cookout, where the only people who can communicate with you are people that have been invited by you or your friends. You can catch up with acquaintances from years ago, or you can mingle with people you have just met. You can join groups to communicate with people who have similar interests, and become familiar with the political and social viewpoints of people you know. You can play games and share links to videos and websites you like.
For professionals wanting to network with other professionals, or employers looking to find the best candidate to fill an open position, the most effective social networking site is LinkedIn. The structure of the site focuses on the individual, providing you a place to post your professional profile, interests, groups you belong to, network connections, and information about your skills and experience. It is easy to locate and make contact with like-minded people by employing searches using keywords, schools, employers, or organizations. LinkedIn is such an individual-focused site that after you make contact with someone, you should already have a plan for how to network with them. The site doesn’t have the same online party or neighborhood cookout feeling that Twitter and Facebook have, but it gives you the opportunity to shine in a professional capacity that the other sites do not afford.
All three of these social media networking sites have their strengths and appeal, but the best way to take advantage of their potential is to use all three together. The more social media networking you can do, the more you will be able to get your name and your message out to the world. The Internet chamber of commerce is open 24/7, and the more you put into your membership, the more you will get out.
[tags]Facebook, Social Media, Twitter, LinkedIn, Networking[/tags]