Like any kind of networking, social media takes an investment of time and energy. So is it worth it?
Of course, if your business is strictly local, you can network face to face, such as through meetups and networking groups. But if you want to draw customers from outside your local area, or you want to reach more local people than you can likely meet through face to face get-togethers, you can:
- Use online networking such as FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, et.al.
- Start a blog
- Become an active commenter on others’ blogs
- Contribute to a wiki
- Become an active participant at social bookmarking sites such as del.icio.us, Mixx, Digg, etc.
In my opinion, the most effective approach for a local business is probably some combination of face-to-face and online. Best of both worlds.
In any case, the point is to get out there, whether “there” is a real-world meetup or a virtual space. Don’t discount online social media just because it’s “new” or because it seems frivolous at first glance.
Effective use of social media can drive significant targeted traffic to your traditional website. Recently, a friend told me his company gets 25% of their traffic from Twitter, for instance. A strong online social profile helps builds trust, establishes you as an authority/expert in your field, strengthens existing relationships and forges new ones. Just like building a network in Real Life.
Bottom line, you need to be where your customers are. It’s not about you. It’s about them. If they’re using MySpace, you need to be on MySpace. If they’re Twittering, you need to be Twittering. If they’re active in the blogosphere, you need to be active there (whether you have an actual blog, or you’re just a frequent/active commenter on theirs). There are many ways to be active in the social media space. You need to find the one(s) that are best for reaching your customers.
The conversation is going on all around you. You can participate, or you can sit it out. But if you decide to sit it out, you need to know that somebody will be participating, and it will likely be your competitors.