Wrapping Your Head Around Social Media

First, if you’re reading this while updating your Facebook status, Twittering about the weird wear pattern you encountered today and checking Yelp for reviews on that new pizza joint down the block…then you really don’t need to be reading this.

First, if you’re reading this while updating your Facebook status, Twittering about the weird wear pattern you encountered today and checking Yelp for reviews on that new pizza joint down the block…then you really don’t need to be reading this (and it’s probably intruding on the time you usually spend on LinkedIn). But for those who may still be hesitant to engage in social media, let’s see if we can give you a push.

In the 1950s professor J.A. Barnes, who specialized in social anthropology, coined the term social network to describe “an association of people drawn together by family, work or hobby.” Barnes also defined the size of a social network as being around 100 to 150 people.

Today, social network services establish online communities of people pretty much as Barnes described, though you need to add a few zeroes to his original numbers (try six or seven). A quick Yahoo! search for “Social Media” rings up 1.36 billion results.

Basically, an SNS lets users create profiles for themselves in what are known as either internal social networking (ISN) or external social networking (ESN) sites. ISNs are closed or private communities, limited to those in an organization, a company, etc. ESNs are open, public, and may be specialized (FlyAnglersOnline) or generic (Facebook, MySpace).

Professional networks exist to help people advance and improve their business through connecting and networking with their peers; without a thriving industry, the network is not sustainable. The Restoration Forum, the ICS Bulletin Board, Mikey’s Board, TruckMountForums.com and others thrive in the cleaning and restoration industry. Other networks, such as Yelp and Angie’s List, let consumers review and discuss service businesses. While such sites may have once been considered “fringe” or otherwise dismissed, ignoring their impact today is inviting disaster.

“Social media has been defined as the use of technology combined with social interaction to create value. Those who feel that this is some newfangled thing for the kids are sorely mistaken,” Bill Yeadon, Jon-Don’s education director, said. “Choosing not to participate does not stop your customers from rating your company on social search sites. Social media allows you to have a dialogue with your customers with little effort but great rewards.”

Some people are simply overwhelmed by the sheer number of social networks out there, and end up never putting a toe in the water. Try this: pick one site, sign up and spend 30 minutes or an hour just browsing around, trying this and that, and seeing how other people are using it. You’ll be surprised by how willing some people are to help you along the way. When you’ve gone around the track a time or two, you’ll have a better feel for social media and a better understanding of how your peers and your clients are using it to make business decisions.

“Times are changing, and changing quickly. All media and advertising is moving rapidly to the Internet. Soon will be gone the days of consumers picking services and printed media,” Tre Allen, president of TruckMountForums.com, said. “More and more people are using Google, blogs and Web sites to access their desired services. The Internet has created a vast ocean for networking capabilities and opportunities to expand your company. Now is not the time to hesitate, but rather to jump on board this worldwide social networking system.”

Social media is an idea, a tool and a community all wrapped into one. Odds are, your clients are part of it; that alone should encourage you to take the leap and make the connection.

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