The idea of doing business through social networks is not a new concept by any means. Long has it been recognised by business people, politicians, community leaders, family members and individuals that investing in building relationships is a great means to achieving outcomes. Relationships in the business sense, have led to fantastic achievements such as the collaboration of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak with Apple, Bill Gates and Paul Allen in the evolution of Microsoft and the concept of online relationships via Facebook which has taken off to the point where there are now over 800 million people with a Facebook account.
The rise of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Blogger, LinkedIn and other such technologies has enabled people to interact in a new way with far greater reach. Besides the obvious personal reasons to use these tools, many companies and organisations are now developing Social Media Strategies because they recognise the value of Doing Business Socially. The technology is new but the concept of building business relationships is certainly not.
On a recent family holiday I had the opportunity to engage with a range of family and friends as well as complete strangers who all seem to be onto this ‘doing business socially’ idea. In fact it seems to be quite common. So what it is all about? How can it be embedded into the daily operations of a company and how can you harness it to result in positive impacts on your business? The best description I have come across referred to doing business socially as the art, science, and philosophy of building trusted networks that achieve strategic objectives.
My holiday sightings of doing business socially have been quite diverse. One by a Farmer and an Art Gallery/Café Owner. Now in these instances I suggest there is a combination of both conscious and unconscious strategy at play. For many small businesses led by entrepreneurs, the ability to socially engage with customers, suppliers, staff and people in general comes naturally and is largely unconscious. For them, networks and relationships form organically through ongoing communication.
The Farmer I refer to was a great example of this. Having lived in the same local area for all his life, his network within the community was impressive and in fact was essential to him running the farm. A large majority of his business stakeholders were friends who he has done business with for many years. Whether he planned it or not, his profile within the community was enhanced and publicised by his unofficial and admittedly “self appointed” role of photographer for the community newsletter which gave him the opportunity to regularly speak with a broad section of people who live in the area, and many of these people do business with this farmer either directly or indirectly. A visit to the local pub with him for dinner provided more evidence of the value of strong networks and doing business socially. I asked him about a few of the people he spoke with at the pub this particular evening and invariably most were involved with him in a business capacity of some form or other.
The second example was by an Art Gallery and Café Owner. After I visited him on three successive mornings for a coffee and a conversation, I was amazed by how much traffic he could generate to his business. The most obvious and visible were the customers who either came for a caffeine hit like me, or visited the gallery to peruse and purchase the artwork and jewellery on display. From what I saw he was doing pretty well in coffee sales alone! However I learned it was the online aspect of his business that was the real earner for him. Through his online presence he was able to connect with art lovers all over the world and share ideas on the latest trends, upcoming artists and direct potential customers to his online gallery. He told me this made up over 65% of his revenue. As such he devoted a significant portion of his time to managing his online brand, he was doing business socially.
Doing business socially involves regular communication. Whether it be face-to-face, over the phone or online, engaging with others is the key. The beauty of it is that you don’t even need to be directly involved. The tools I mentioned earlier can do much of the work for you as long as you get the ball rolling. Your online networks can keep your name, brand and message out there for longer if well executed. Online discussions about you or your product or service can be a great way to enhance your reputation, build your brand, generate awareness to new audiences and promote your brand. Of course there is some risk that negative discourse may occur and cause damage but again, if well managed this can be contained.
So regardless of whether your business is a farm, an art gallery or a global brand, doing business socially is of massive value and worthy of consideration. Are you doing business socially and managing your reputation, networks and relationships and could you do it better?
Ben Walsh – General Manager; Recruitment