The new revolution of Social Media and its marketing potential has been one of the most heavily written about topics in recent years. The success of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and a host of others has been postulated to stem from a need for human interaction in an increasingly isolating world. Is it really a cure, or is it another contributor to that isolation?
There are some obvious drawbacks to the use of social media, including the threat of loss of privacy; the anonymous and random nature of the “friend” phenomenon; and the fact that there are a huge number of valuable, brilliant people in the world who have no concept of these systems and don’t participate in them at all, and likely never will. They are too busy leading real, enriching, empowered lives outside the cyber realm, interacting with people face-to-face.
Social media is more likely a ready replacement for the old-fashioned method of meeting new people, seeking out like individuals with common interests, traits, social circumstances and desires – networking events. Meetings, conferences, charities, and professional and business trade associations were the centers of the business and social universe. Members joined to meet new people, those of similar interest to their own. They were from similar backgrounds, similar socioeconomic circumstances, (mildly) similar income and often depending upon the type of organization, geographically similar. They were by definition, a group.
Some groups are more social than others. Neighborhood associations, fraternal and community, civic organizations, like Optimists, Rotary Clubs, Shriners, Civitans, Elks Lodges, Oddfellows, Masons and such are often built around a charity or fundraising for a specific cause or issue, but are largely social in nature. Professional and trade associations are more businesslike, especially the latter, which has corporations as members, but uses individuals as volunteers. However there are strong social components, including an annual meeting, sometimes a secondary meeting focused on specific components of their industry, continuing education opportunities throughout the year, and of course committee work and volunteer projects to recruit new members, maintain dues and enrollment renewal, and other fundraising projects to keep the organization running and viable. One of the truly valuable benefits to belonging to such an organization is this social component, and the benefits are myriad.
To form true business relationships, one must find familiarity and common ground. One way to do that is through such business-related organizations where some of the screening has already been done and the common interest is displayed up front. One such organization whose reason for being is to help promote this type of professional interaction is Sales and Marketing Executives International (SMEI). It is a 74-year-old international group with 10,000 members in 30 countries and throughout the United States, whose sole reason for joining is to meet other top business professionals in their sector and enhance their professional knowledge and standing. SMEI offers a certification program for Sales, one for Marketing, and a Management certificate, recognized internationally as a sign of professionalism and excellence. Meeting frequency and purpose varies by chapter, but all have a business relationship-forming function of some sort, based on five founding principles: Professional Standards and Identification, Continuing Education, Sharing Knowledge, Assist Students, Support the Free Enterprise System. Benefits of membership include professional recognition and respect, enlarged professional sphere of influence, strong professional network and enhanced community and professional outreach.
Those benefits mirror many other organizations’ benefits, but few are stated so clearly and succinctly, and lived by the membership so obviously. Not only does the individual member benefit to a great degree from their participation, but the organization benefits from the aggregate efforts of professionals at this level, working on their projects in their “native” turf – sales and marketing. This is true of few organizations of this type – typically the officers are elected based on popularity first and competence second or beyond. They may have an accountant as treasurer if they’re lucky, or an attorney as President for a year or more, but that’s often the extent of it.
Professional trade associations with professional staff’s who specialize in Association management are an entirely different animal. These organizations are typically well-run, offer great benefits to their corporate or individual members, the principal of which varies from group to group, but usually include some sort of government lobbying and public marketing for the industry, education of the industry, standards and practices for the industry, statistics for the industry, and occasionally innovation and regulation within the industry. The social component as an adjunct to those benefits comes in the form of an annual meeting, some sort of recognition for outstanding performance within the group or industry, a commercial exhibition of some sort, continuing education opportunities, and networking as a byproduct of all of the above.
The most important thing you can do to build your personal and professional reputation is to be active in your own industry, and that means joining and most importantly engaging in activities sponsored and structured by your industry associations. Find a way to justify the value of your dues payment, and the easiest way to do that is to get involved – this is truly an environment where you reap what you sow. Join a committee, work your way onto the board, pick a project and give it some time, effort and commitment – new business and an expanded sphere of influence are the smallest possible returns, and those are valuable indeed.
Based on these types of organizations, the electronic version doesn’t even come close to the power of a personally interacted business relationship. Human beings sense elements of each other’s personality through a number of different channels, including the interpretation of body language, clothing choice, vocal inflection and word choice. Interaction with others on a face-to-face basis is essential to forming fully informed business relationships. All that meta information is lost in the cyber realm, leaving you with just the filtered choices of text and images to work with when forming conclusions about this person’s character, intent and sincerity.
The next time you’re filing your friends on Facebook, or counting your connections on LinkedIn, ask yourself if you’d associate personally or professionally with all of those people if it meant meeting them face-to-face in a professional or social situation. Would you invite them into your home, meet them at a local hotel for dinner, recommend them for a job, refer them to your banker or broker? If the answer to any of these is no, are they really productive, solid, reciprocal relationships that foster business, or are they more like artificially garnered acquaintances that know more about you than you might like?
If you found this valuable and thought-provoking, don’t forget to pick up your copy of “The Marketing Doctor’s Survival Notes”