Some Advice on Social Networking... from Sun Tzu

Tom Snyder photo by Tom Snyder on Feb 13, 2009

There is a debate going on today in my circle of friends at Facebook about how professional it is for a business (or a business owner) to have a Facebook page.  It's a great question...and it's just one of the many questions businesses are asking about social networking.

As the lines blur between business and personal relationships, and the availability, variety and use of Web 2.0 tools grows daily, it gets increasingly more difficult for business decision makers to know what to do. Several have come to us, telling us they'd like to start participating in social media as a business vehicle, and asking us to recommend some of  the best Web 2.0 networking tools. Unfortunately, that's the wrong question to be asking first.

In his book "The Art of War," Sun Tzu said: " Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

It was true then. It is true now.  In this case, the  tools are just the tactics. We've been helping businesses get the best use of Web, E-mail, and SEO tools, for 13 years. And so our job now is to do the same thing with Web 2.0. Before we recommend tactics,  we need to start with the bigger question: "What is your strategy?"

A company could tell their Ad Agency that they want to start participating in traditional Media Marketing. However, without a strategy, a response of "Do some radio, some billboards, and a couple print ads" would be just noise before defeat. With a strategy, the response can intelligently target demographics, evaluate channels for a decent ROI, develop the appropriate creative, make the specific placement recommendations, execute the technical aspects to get the message to market, evaluate the results and adjust the program.

Developing a Web 2.0 strategy is similar. It's more than just a "Do a blog, find some other blogs to participate in, make a Facebook fan page, Twitter, and keep your LinkedIn profile up to date."  There are a ton of tools available, some obvious, some not so obvious. The question is more which ones are appropriate for their business and will generate commensurate revenue.

Just like traditional media, networking (both the traditional breakfast meeting or after work meet and greets) or the new, digital networking platforms can be productive and profitable. Or they can also be  just waste of time, effort and money.  But to simply jump in without a strategy and start blogging or posting on Facebook is a huge mistake.

Going back to the original question of how appropriate it is for a business to have a Facebook page, the answer lies in your strategy. If you don't have one, it will be just a guess, or fodder for discussion among others who will have an opinion, but may not have a clue.

If you do have a well-defined strategy, you already know the answer.  And if your answer is "Yes," then you need to also consider the second part of the Sun Tzu quote: Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.

You'll need to be thinking about the nature and number of Facebook pages, as well as linking, advertising and networking strategies for those pages and possibly even considering development of a Facebook application.  And after you've done that, do the same with all the other Web 2.0 tools now available.

Now is the time to jump into Web 2.0 and the world of social networking.  But before you do, consider the wisdom of Sun Tzu, and take the time to develop your strategy and your tactics. It will be the difference between success and failure... between victory or defeat.

-Tom Snyder

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