This post is not for most of the people who read this blog. Most readers are already actively using the internet to make, grow and keep their business and personal relationships. These social media regulars already possess a deep understanding of the plethora of online tools that are available for people to engage. Those of use who have accounts on LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Plaxo and countless other social media sites often forget that not everyone has taken the plunge.
In fact, those of us who are active online tend to interact mostly with our friends and associates who populate these worlds. Out of sight is out mind and we have a blind spot to those who do not use the internet for this purpose, either by ignorance or by choice.
I recently had a conversation with a very successful business person who had intentionally avoided having any online presence beyond a company website. He had believed that the online social media / social networking world was reserved for those who came from later generations, not for his baby boomer peers. While he is very tech savvy, and has pushed his company to adopt most of the latest technology, he had never been comfortable with the transparent nature of joining the social networking movement.
Many business people do not grasp the power that others have encountered via their online efforts. They look at the time commitment and other negatives that come from becoming part of the interactive internet communities and they decide that they are either too busy or that the whole thing is a fad.
In 1989 I worked for a man who refused to purchase a fax machine. He saw no advantage of this technology over sending contracts by mail, and he proclaimed the whole "technology" trend to be a fad. Eventually he did purchase a fax machine, as well as computers, cell phones, etc.... He still claims that the fax machine was a fad, just one that lasted for 25 years. He points out that he never uses the fax any more, as everything is now done by email. He is, however, now a heavy user of technology and has become an early adopter of the newest tools to grow his business!
The same thing is true of online social media, many mistakenly think it is a passing fancy, but they will be on board soon enough.
Some who have not yet jumped into the social networking pool wonder if they are getting in too late. They are concerned if they start a blog now that nobody will notice. They fear that if they sign up for LinkedIn they many never get connections, as people seem to be reaching capacity for handling all their existing online relationships. Some fret about looking foolish or unprofessional in their industry, if their peers are not yet part of the game (although these people are often surprised to find their peers and competitors are actively cultivating social networking communities).
My opinion is that everyone needs to have an online presence. You need not have a personal blog or custom website to promote yourself, but you should make sure that those who are seeking information about you can easily discover your basic information with a simple search.
Our society is becoming more demanding of access to information. The focus should not be on your desire to place this information on the web, but instead your customers, prospects, referral sources, future employers and others desire to be able to know about you.
I realize to some this sounds intrusive to privacy. I am not saying that you need to tell all online. However, when you realize that the business world is migrating to this open model, then you understand that if you hide yourself from their view they may decide you are not worth the effort. Many people who choose not to participate are seen as out of touch, secretive, difficult or maybe hiding something. Worse yet, they are just passed by altogether and not thought about at all.
In a world full of choices, there are those who will gladly turn to someone else (your competition) who makes it easier for them to interact and gain access.
Not everyone is living and working on line. We are still early in the process and there are still new technologies yet to be released. It is clear that these social networking tools are becoming more pervasive and to embrace them early is the key to not being left behind.
My advice to those who have avoided is to get over your excuses. Start with a LinkedIn account for your business contacts. LinkedIn has become a widely used site and is seen as the business standard in social networking. Additionally have an account on Facebook. You will be surprised by whom will seek you out and discover you. A college friend opened a Facebook page to monitor the activities of his teenage daughters and the result was that he reconnected with dozens of his friends and former co-workers with whom he had lot touch. He was thrilled.
My 68-year-old father-in-law was searching for an old friend and we told him to try Facebook (and other sites). While he did not find the person he was seeking, he did discover that his former students (he taught high school for 40 years), co-workers, and family connections were present on the internet. He has had a lot of fun in his retirement re-connecting with those who had touched him throughout his life time. (side note, we did have to point out to him that when he meets and old friend for coffee he should not say they "hooked up" - as this has a different meaning on the internet!).
Be warned that not everyone uses these tools in the same way, so you will be overrun by "friend requests" from strangers, spammers, link-collectors and others whom you do not wish to be connected. Establish your personal criteria, or "linking strategy". I do not accept links from anyone that I have not had a meal or a drink with (or the digital equivalent). I want to ensure that everyone I am connected to on LinkedIn or Facebook are people whom I actually know and who would take my phone call.
Remember that people are watching all you do on the internet. Think about the photos that you post and the people and groups that you choose to be linked with. One middle aged gentleman that I know has become the butt of many jokes because of the number of sexy twenty-year-old "friends" he has on his MySpace page. While these unknown "friends" requests pop up regularly, he has accepted so many of them that he looks like a dirty old man when you review his contacts.
There is more to follow on this topic in the coming days, as this post is already un-naturally long.
Have A Great Day.