Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with some of the social networking territory we have covered here over the years.
While other bloggers have been completely bullish about the benefits of social networking for business, this blog has taken a far more cautious approach to such wanton endorsement.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
In fact, one social networking enthusiast was so outraged at my ‘proceed with caution’ approach that she proceeded to completely disrupt a workshop I was giving on the subject.
The main reason for this conservative approach was that genuine results have been at best inconsistent. The only smaller businesses reporting genuine return on investment – at least in the early days – were the ones who had a vested interest in reporting it.
Still unproven for many
The numbers of genuine small business operators were few and far between. In fact for some businesses, the medium is unlikely to provide any tangible benefit at all.
This lack of success was reflected in my own small business. No matter how much time I invested in diligently ‘friending’, posting, conversing and otherwise profile-building, all I was really getting out of so much social networking investment was fundamental learning about how it all worked and perhaps some minor profile-building.
Until this very evening.
Because there in my bank balance was the down payment from our first direct piece of business arising out of our social networking efforts.
Yes, after what has amounted to thousands of hours of sowing social networking seeds without a single harvest, finally I can point to a piece of new business resulting directly from our social networking efforts.
And while the business was not from an overly surprising source, the way it occurred was.
Our surprise social networking success
What wasn’t surprising was that the business came from a social networking group. As discussed here on several occasions now, social networking groups represent unprecedented opportunities to tap into thousands of new business relationships for no cost at all (at least financially).
For some time now I’ve been regularly and diligently posting this blog, among other content pieces, into dozens of these groups in an attempt to build my profile and benefit from the search engine linking and viral benefits these provide.
But the measurable increased connections and profile this has provided me was not what landed this new business.
Instead, it was my new client’s posting of a networking event he was running in my area within a special interest group (in this case Facebook) that proved the catalyst to the new business.
There are friends in business
I responded to the event and duly turned up. Because the event wasn’t particularly well attended, we all got a better opportunity to discuss our respective businesses. In discussing what I did, the event organiser – the one I had engaged with in the group – expressed real interest in what we did because of the problems he had had with a previous provider.
As a result, a separate meeting was arranged, a briefing taken, an estimate provided and voila! Beautiful new business.
So in reality, the new business didn’t come from the expected strategic tactic of regular posting of my content (like this) within groups at all.
What it did come from was the other strategic tactic of regular perusing and engaging a group populated by my target market and engaging with the people in it.
And this opportunity is unlikely to have come about any other way.
There is sales gold in groups
The marketing moral of the story is that by regular engagement with members of social networking groups that contain members of your target market, you can build relationships that will eventually yield new business.
Sure, it doesn’t make me back the thousands of dollars in hours I’ve invested thus far into social networking. But where there’s smoke there’s fire.
And again, there is gold in social networking groups.
Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.