Social media is big in the tech business these days. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, del.icio.us, Flickr, and Twitter are just some of the companies at the forefront of using the web to connect us. Blogs count too. Just what is it? According to Wikipedia, “Social media describes the online technologies and practices that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences, and perspectives.” Got that?
Don’t worry, nobody else does either. Assemble 10 tech consultants in a room and ask for their definition and you’ll be presented with 15 different explanations. We can’t agree (even with ourselves) on what it is, but we agree it’s big. And we think you should be doing it. I will admit, I agree with the crowd on this one. You should be doing “it” - or some portion of “it”. To help explain why, I’ll give some examples of social media’s effect on my life recently.
My blogs of course would have to be the prime example. I have two, http://www.dennisdeery.com and http://www.irose.com (DennisDeery.com gets all content, IRose.com filters that down to mainly work-focused stuff). While we’ve been living in Ireland the past year, these blogs have helped us to keep folks back home informed about what we’re up to. We’ve heard lots of great comments from friends and family that they’ve appreciated the updates, and have felt less far-away from us than they otherwise would have. I’d say exactly the same, because the blog updates have reminded people to email us, and have reminded us to keep in better touch too. I haven’t convinced anybody at home to start blogging yet, but who knows…
But the blogs have had an effect on the business as well, as a recent experience illustrates. A couple of weeks ago I went to a small business conference in Dublin. As part of the conference, I participated in a speed networking event. This is an event that gathers a bunch of business people in a room for 90 minutes. Attendees sit in two concentric circles of chairs, the inner circle facing out, the outer circle facing in. You sit down in a chair and are facing another attendee. The moderator calls start, and you have 90 seconds to pitch your business to your opposite attendee. They then have 90 seconds to pitch their business to you. At the end of three minutes, the moderator calls time. All attendees in the outer circle shift one chair left, thereby facing a new attendee. This is repeated until time runs out, giving you the chance to meet 30 new people in 90 minutes. It’s a good way to practice your elevator pitch, and it’s a great way to learn about a lot of different businesses. You’d be surprised at how much information you can share in three minutes when you’re focused. Hopefully you can plant a seed that will encourage the people you meet to get in touch later. And that’s where the blogs come in. I met two people during the event that expressed interest in some of the things I write about here. And with both of them, I was able to mention recent things I’d written that might interest them. That gave them an incentive to look me up online later. I’ve since been in touch with both. Have I gotten any new work from them? No. Will I? Dunno. And honestly, it really doesn’t matter. I get essentially all my work via word-of-mouth referrals, so I’ve learned that it’s important to build those connections wherever they may come from - you can never predict where a project will come from down the road. With luck, the information those folks got from my writing has helped their business, and if so I’ll count that as a win.
Second example: for a while now I’ve been posting most of my photos to Flickr, the photo-sharing web site. For those interested in the gory tech details, Flickr is what drives most of the photo galleries I post on this site, though you can see some photos on Flickr that I don’t post here. As I wrote the other day, recently a magazine editor here in Ireland discovered one of my photos on Flickr and requested permission to use it in his publication.
I’ve just one more example to offer. The business networking site LinkedIn has been around a while. When they first launched I checked them out, but didn’t sign up for an account. What makes a site like this work is having many people signed up, and when they launched I couldn’t see much benefit to it. In the past few weeks though I’ve seen the site mentioned several times, so I finally got signed up for an account. Once you get an account, you can enter information about yourself to create a profile. This information can include schools you’ve attended, companies at which you’ve worked, etc. LinkedIn can also search your email address book for contacts. The service then searches their database for people with the same information, and allows you to invite people to join your network. You cannot see contact information for people until they join your network, so you can provide some information about yourself without giving away the farm. I entered information on just a couple of schools and companies, and I was immediately presented with a list of about twenty people I knew. Most of those were people I’m still in contact with, but there were several people I hadn’t heard from in quite a while, including a couple of old friends I’d lost touch with. I extended invites, and am now back in touch with some of the long-lost sheep, including at least two that I hadn’t spoken with in 15 years or more!
I hope this gives you some idea of how online media tools can work to your advantage. Will any of these tools transform your business? I’m not sure. But their cost is generally low, usually requiring only your time to create an account or a profile, and do some searching for your first contacts. I think it’s worth spending a little time to check some of these services out. You need to have an online presence for your business, but I think it’s now important to have an online presence for yourself as well. To get you started, check out the links at the top of this entry, or check out the links to my pages below.