Facebook: Is That All There Is?

Ann All

My last job took me on the road frequently to trade shows, user conferences and other industry events. A while back, I decided to sift through the towering stack of business cards I had accumulated and get rid of those for which I had no use. That ended up being more than three-quarters of them.

 

Even when still covering a beat that involved many of the folks who'd handed me a card, I enjoyed regular contact with only a tiny percentage of them. Why? There were several reasons, though two stand out. First, I'm lazy. I was better at establishing easy relationships over an open bar than I was in later maintaining them.

 

Second, most of those people were superfluous. I further cultivated relationships with those who ended up being valuable sources. All those others, not so much. I may have missed out on the story of the decade by ignoring so many folks, but I doubt it.

 

I've decided these are more or less the same issues I have with Facebook, LinkedIn, et al. And I don't think I'm alone.

 

I had dinner with a friend the other night, a busy and successful freelance writer who specializes in coverage of the restaurant and food industry. We were talking about networking sites, and he admitted, "I've got 100 people in my LinkedIn network, but I don't know what to do with them." Another editor here tried using LinkedIn to round up sources for a story she was working on. Most of the suggestions turned out to be dead ends. She got some interesting leads, though few related to the story in question.


 

So I related to a piece on Harvard Business Online called Why I'm Dropping You as a Facebook Friend. The author, Paul Michelman, enumerates some of the ways he's tried to use his Facebook account, including promoting his features on his Web site, recruiting bloggers, driving traffic to his columns, and getting folks to connect to his Twitter account. None of them panned out.

 

He writes:

Sure, a few other prospective business associates have popped out of the woodwork along the way, but they've offered the most flimsy of platforms for a relationship -- she once taught a business course in Grenada or some other dubious spot, he's "in the media," they are -- God help me -- independent management consultants. What does a connection with them offer me? Nothing. What do I offer them? The same. We're each just another number, another utterly useless "connection."

Michelman's solution? He's culling business-related contacts from Facebook and reserving it for personal purposes. One advantage: This will create a buffer between his business and personal lives -- something he doesn't see as a negative, though some Type A folks likely would.

 

I guess this makes me sound like a flip-flopper. After all, I just wrote yesterday that I thought Facebook had possible business potential. Commenting on Facebook's new Great Apps program, I wrote:

If there's going to be a category called Great Apps, why not one called Apps for Business?

I base this more on Facebook's broad user base, popularity with both business and non-business types and a vague idea that "it makes too much sense not to work" rather than any demonstrable value currently on the site, however. I am generally underwhelmed by articles like this one, from The Motley Fool, on Facebook's possible business uses. The three items on the list all sound pretty lame.

  • Social networking is a proving ground for cloud computing? Please. I think plenty of others, including EDS, Amazon and Google, beat Facebook to the punch.
  • Social networks can lead to high levels of customer engagement. True enough, until customers tire of it and turn to the "next big thing," a not-uncommon occurrence in social media.
  • Social networks foster network effects. Um, sure. How many of these effects prove useful? See above.


Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 25, 2008 6:00 AM Brian Johnson Brian Johnson  says:
Very good article. I work at a professional networking website (www.konnects.com) and I get tons of connection requests. Accepting just anybody to be a connection is worthless. Social networks operate in the Long Tail and there is going to be lots of junk in the Long Tail. In order to navigate the social networking field to really make it useful for business is to regulate who you accept as connections.I only accept people as connections who I know can actually help me do business. I keep my social friend networks separate from my professional networks. Of course I talk to lots of people who I am not connected with either because I want to know what they do or just have a question.Business (or social) networks are very valuable if you regulate them.Brianwww.konnects.com Reply
Jul 25, 2008 9:22 AM Brian Crouch Brian Crouch  says:
It makes a lot of sense to have a separate personal social network and a business social network, but I know many professionals or business owners who have overlap of the two.... Reply
Jul 28, 2008 4:37 AM Ian Hendry Ian Hendry  says:
Great post and valid comments from Brian. I agree with them all. However, I would add the following.We've all picked up business cards through our career (and the same is now happening on LinkedIn) and a small percentage have led to business. But how many of those people have needed something you can offer but have lost the card; or didn't realise you did that; or your portfolio has since expanded so that now they MIGHT be a customer; or... or...Mostly we keep in contact with our database through one way means: newsletters for the main part as those cards get entered into your CRM system. But if we could have active 2 way communication with them, even if only in a small way, then you could find people you'd had forgotten suddenly becoming of interest again because they need what you have or the otther way round.If Twitter was not so unreliable and burdoned with ditritous it may help with this. We've built a business specific version of it into our site at http://www.wecando.biz and we call it Biz Needs. In essence, you stay connected with all those contacts and when one has a need, you get to hear about it first. It if is something you can help with then you two can get talking again. The rest of the time, like LinkedIn, they remain passive.I'd love to see you trying it out Ann!Ian HendryWeCanDo.BIZhttp://www.wecando.biz Reply
Jul 28, 2008 9:06 AM Don Kim Don Kim  says:
I just wrote about this, and I think this is like any marketing or branding pursuit (if that is your goal), that first, you need to make sure to conscientiously put an effort to put across a consistent, targeted and well-articulated profile, and second, get your "personal" brand out there regularly and often so that you increase you chances of meeting one or two of those business contact gems periodically.-Donwww.donkim.info Reply
Jul 29, 2008 2:59 AM subramanian subramanian  says:
Using business /social networking sites for productive purposes is like searching for info based on key word search on the internet. loking for a needle in a haystack. My experience is that is you get value from 1% of the contacts initiated through the networking sites, it is still not bad. it si a question of expectation moderation. you need to put low cost unemployed persons to maintain the contacts amd follow thro the sites Reply

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