You could hear a pin drop.
Not once, but time and time again.
It happens every time I spruik the various social networking groups or pages I’ve helped establish to assist small business owners with pretty much every aspect of their business lives to a group of SME operators.
There’s just this disinterested lull. No polite clap. No murmur of approval. Not even a question to find out why they should be interested.
But then again, what do I expect? The reality is that for most smaller business operators, social networking is not an aid to business at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Damn social networking!
Most smaller business operators think that social networking is a complete waste of time, the ultimate distraction or both.
And without really getting in and having a look around, it’s easy to see why.
Without getting your hands or at least fingers dirty with social networking, all you will see is your staff or suppliers with their heads in their respective devices attending to anything but what you want them to do.
While for some the above might be true, the truth is that these days there could be literally dozens of genuine work-related activities that your staff member might in fact be attending to on their beloved device.
Not playing, working
They may be responding to a client email or social network post. They might be making an appointment on a shared calendar. They may even be checking their performance results for the month.
The reality is that these days, you and your staff are increasingly likely to have your heads in your favourite device for a work-related activity.
Which brings us back to social networking.
In fact, given that much social networking these days really does have a business motivation, perhaps its time to remove the ‘social’ from the phrase.
Perhaps it should be ‘online business networking’?
Benefits of social media for business
Because as this blog has discussed before, there is a lot of business being done in social networks.
Some of the proven benefits social networking bring include:
• ‘Virally’ promoting their business, product or offer
• Raising their profile
• Growing their connection ‘list’
• Market research
• Assistance with all manner of business issues and challenges
• Business referrals (outbound and inbound)
• Targeted advertising
• Search engine optimisation
• General connection with their industry or wider business world
And undoubtedly many more.
But amongst the several small business groups I’ve helped establish, mainly within Facebook due to its higher smaller business adoption, few go beyond blatant promotion of their businesses and actually meaningfully engage with other business operators in the network.
Probably because blatant promotion appears to be the most obvious and most familiar thing they can do within the network.
Making the social networking leap
The problem for this business generation is that in the main it is just so new and strange to them.
While some will be using it reasonably regularly in their spare time to share the news of their friends and family, most never use it for business purposes.
In fact, one reliable Australian study showed that social networking engagement among business operators actually dropped in the last 12 months.
This year’s insightful Sensis Social Media Report tells us that only 30% of smaller businesses have a social media presence. Only 17% have been attracted to that irresistible force that is advertising on social networks.
Compare this level of adoption compared to consumers, where 82% of Americans between the age of 18-29 use Facebook compared to 48% in the 65+ age group. The more common business operating age range of 50-64 is a still healthy 64%.
Mixing pleasure with business
But clearly these impressive consumer numbers are not migrating to using the same networks they use everyday socially for business purposes.
Because social networking is such a mainstay in the world of the younger consumer, it’s hard not to believe that they won’t use it for business purposes as their career progresses and in turn they start their own businesses.
To that demographic, social networking is no different to television for we oldies. They grew up with it.
But for this generation at least, it appears that the increasing benefits of a regular social networking presence may well pass them by.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.