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Friday, January 2, 2009

The ROI of business social networks

Fort Worth Business Press

BY ED RIEFENSTAHL

December 15, 2008

Conventional wisdom in times such as these is that businesses must continue to invest in sales, advertising and marketing. Mike Roundtree, CEO of Fort Worth-based Roundtree Advertising, shared a McGraw Hill Research study that backed up this assertion. It found that “aggressive recession advertisers” increased market share 2 1/2 times the average for all post-recession businesses. ...

In this month’s TAB Tips, I want to share a marketing and business development investment that is cash flow friendly – business social networking. Below are the tips for small business owners to leverage this channel. ...

Background

Most readers have heard of MySpace and Facebook. Each site has its distinct online communities and features; however, the pre-eminent networking site for business professionals in the United States is LinkedIn.

Launched in May 2003, in 2008 Sequoia Capital, Greylock Partners, and other venture capital firms purchased a 5 percent stake in LinkedIn for $53 million, giving the company a post-money valuation of about $1 billion. As of October, it had more than 30 million registered users, spanning 150 industries.

How to leverage your relationships and business on LinkedIn

At a recent presentation for business owner members of The Alternative Board, TAB, the questions were about potential benefits in the following areas:

1. Lead Generation: This involves both being found and finding others. LinkedIn is a powerful method to search for ideal prospect companies, however, knowing how to get yourself introduced is key. Being seen as an expert in your field by engaging in the Question and Answer feature of LinkedIn which can help you see and be seen.

2. Sales Acceleration: You likely won't have direct access to C-level people, but you may have the opportunity to access someone currently or formerly in an organization who can champion or coach you.

Researching the profiles of the individuals found on LinkedIn provides a context for starting focused conversations. You may get insight into current and past roles, interests and accomplishments. As such, your conversations are more relevant and focused.

3. Finding Strategic Partners: In order to meet the needs of a new client prospect, or to search for a strategic partner, use the LinkedIn Advanced Search feature to find other small business partners with skills that augment your offering.

4. Marketing and Brand Positioning and Image: Your company profile on LinkedIn must match the content contained on your Web site, as well as other materials and media carrying your marketing message.

5. Generation Gap Communication Closer: In a January, CSO Insights article, Barry Trailer surfaced this observation: “A major trend impacting sales is the span of three or even four generations within a single sales force. Managing and facilitating communications across these generational gaps may be eased with social networking technologies. While my [baby] boomer compatriots think e-mail is big magic, instant messaging and text messaging now are estimated to outnumber e-mails on a daily basis.

“A presenter at an analyst conference shared a conversation he had with a younger co-worker. He asked this 20-something if he used e-mail. The younger worker’s response –and the presenter assured us he detected no sarcasm when the young person said it – was, ‘Yeah, but only when I’m talking to some old guy.’”

How to get a handle on business social networks

A Denver-based firm, Integrated Alliances, is positioning itself as the international, one-stop source to help business organizations effectively and efficiently leverage business social networking sites, starting with LinkedIn. The firm offers the following training and services: International webinars, local public workshops, custom training and services.

The local source for these services is Janee Harrell. To find out more, or to register for upcoming webinars and workshops, go to: www.linkedforroi-ignite.com

LinkedIn and the expanding Online Business Social Networking relevancy of Facebook and Twitter will grow in importance to small business owners. Taking advantage of this channel is a must. To leverage it effectively, find firms, like Integrated Alliances, which are focused on this space to assist you.

Ed Riefenstahl is the Fort Worth area managing director of The Alternative Board. He also founded and leads Neeley & Associates at the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University. Ed serves as a board member of the Fort Worth Business Assistance Center and an advisory board member of the North Texas Angels Network.