It’s always good to get away from the screen and keyboard and get together with real friends and chew the fat over our respective lives.
And being in the digital game, it doesn’t usually take long for the ensuing conversation to turn to social networking and its impact on business.
So it was last week when a few of us met for our monthly catch-up.
“Social networking – a complete waste of time,” stormed one.
“Who’s got time for it?” queried another.
“Leave it to the kids,” yet another.
Most comments were aimed squarely at me. After all, it was me who has bored the group witless about the business benefits of social networking for some time now.
“So how much business have you got out of it?” came the predictable question.
What’s your ROI? No, really…
“I’ve probably had only one direct piece of business myself over the years, but of course my participation also counts as research so as I can advise and coach clients as to how to use it.
“But I’m in the most competitive space of all (digital). Every web pro and his dog is using it so it’s harder to achieve cut-through”.
“But businesses of all shapes, sizes and industries are getting real business out of social networking groups,” I added.
Groups of course are the special interest communities that populate the various social networks. There are groups dealing with pretty much any topic you can name. In this case, it was the groups dealing with small business that I was referring to.
“Like who,” queried one.
“Name one,” said another.
Alas I couldn’t recall the names of businesses that had generated real business from their participation in social networking groups (mostly because participants are known by their personal names rather than business names), but told them I would find out and come back to them.
Like phoning a few thousand Friends
So who better to ask than members of one of the most active social networking small business groups in this country, the “I am a business owner in Victoria” Facebook group run by the Victorian state government and comprising over 4500 active members.
If you haven’t visited this group, it’s well worth it. Every day its members start (mostly) genuine discussions on a wide range of business topics. Everything from tax issues to IT to troublesome employees.
The thing that strikes you about the group is the generosity of its members. Most freely give their ideas, opinions and experiences without so much as a veiled reference to their business.
Group members seem genuinely interested in helping each other out.
If you are a business operator in Victoria, you can even join it. If not, there are lots of groups dealing with business and most likely one around your region.
If not, again, why not start one?
One of Facebook’s nifty features is its survey tool. So I put the question to group members: How many sales have you made as a direct result of your participation in this group?
Whilst not overwhelmed with responses, there was enough (33) to get some indication of sales success – not that that is the sole reason for participating in the group.
Converting conversations to cash
Of those, 15 had made at least one sale. Interestingly, 15 had made no sales. Two had had some enquiries but no sales as yet and one said they weren’t there to get sales.
So nearly 50% had made at least one sale. Not bad for an activity that is free to use, but of course can be time consuming.
And there’s the rub. Because without some understanding of the time invested, ROI is a fairly nebulous notion.
Regardless, what this small survey indicates is that it is indeed possible to generate business by participating in social networking groups.
In fact, the ‘more than one sale’ response outstripped the ‘one sale only’ two to one.
Word-of-mouth on steroids
But in hindsight, I probably didn’t need to go to the trouble of a survey to prove my point. Social networking is, after all, word-of-mouth ‘on steroids’.
Does word-of-mouth work? Silly question.
Could a mechanism that accelerates word-of-mouth to reach unlimited people simultaneously work? A sillier question.
Perhaps it’s about time social networking groups were considered as part of your promotional activity mix.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator, 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.