Online social networking is vital to your business future – or is it?

Philip Calvert arrived at a recent NRG Business Networks lunch ready to deliver a killer blow for many businesses in the audience. Hitting the audience squarely between the eyes he told them that unless they were focusing on online social networking they were nowhere.

Social networking is so important, he said, that businesses that did not take it on board were likely to miss out. Indeed, he told the story of his son, now at Sheffield Hallam Univerity, whose first task upon arriving at his hall of residence was to set up a social networking group on Facebook for all his room-mates. Young people today think online social networking first. That means as today’s graduates and school leavers enter the business world they will expect it to have inbuilt social networking capabilities. Fail to do that and you will not attract new staff.

Philip made the point that you need to include social networking as part of your business strategy. The very next day, Thomas Power gave a speech on social networking where he echoed Philip’s views. Indeed, he was even stronger in his suggestions about social networking saying that unless you were on Ecademy, LinkedIn and Facebook, you were not going to succeed in the current business world.

Now, both Thomas and Philip agree on one thing for sure – get online, get involved and get networking. The future of your business depends upon online social networking they say. However, are they right? Or is there a flaw in their argument?

Yes, it’s true, online social networking brings business rewards and those exploiting things like Ecademy and LinkedIn are doing well. However, the message that online social networking is essential could cause some business people to lose focus. They could spend much time – Thomas Power said a minimum of two hours per day – engaging in unproductive social networking online. This could divert some people from profit producing business activities or productive “offline” social networking.

So, what should you do? Yes, take Philip’s and Thomas’s advice and use online social networks to help build reputation, image, brand. But do not neglect offline social networks – even in the online world, most business deals are still done face to face. In other words you need to get the balance right. Interestingly, that’s precisely what Philip and Thomas do themselves – they spend much of their time building relationships online and then they go and meet lots and lots of people in the “real world”. Live, person to person contact is what has probably been more important for these two individuals than the online social networks they have built up – important as they are. As ever on the Internet, it’s people first, technology second.

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