When I was single and hoping to marry, friends and family constantly told me to "go out and socialize." Some suggested church, others said I should go to the gym, others recommended restaurants/parties, and the list goes on.
While there was a hidden agenda of finding a spouse, no one recommended that I visit these places with the mindset of finding a date. Instead, they suggested I just have fun. After all, it was far better than sitting at home. And, you never know whom you might meet.
Well, now that I'm married with three children, I'd like to offer that same advice for businesses that are not yet participating in social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and others. These are all great places to network with others who have similar interests or needs. And, they are often wonderful ways to stay in touch with clients/customers, and tie them closer to the brand.
Of course, there are behavioral rules for social media participation. Like dating, it's a bad idea to focus solely on one thing, in this case, lead generation. After all, you wouldn't walk into a party and tell everyone your goal was a date for next Saturday night. No one would take you seriously.
Instead, you should just introduce yourself the same way you would at a restaurant, party or beach. And then let the social media relationships flourish. (For ideas about how your company can participate in social media, see post: Staying Top of Mind in a Bad Economy)
Will this networking turn into leads for you business? Very possibly. You don't know whom you might meet via your social media relationships, and you also don't know how many customers you might save just by staying in touch.
Thus, the social media effort is a bit of a risk, because it could take time and effort that could be used for other business generating efforts. And quantifying the benefit is a bit tricky, although doable (especially if you tie it to boosting your website traffic, or reducing customer care calls).
But one thing is for sure: Social media is an increasingly good way to network and stay top of mind with potential customers for some businesses. (If your customers and prospects don't participate in any form of social media, then it might not be right for your company.) It's less expensive than traditional advertising strategies, and it's very likely your competitor will do it at some point, potentially gaining more visibility than your company.
So, instead of sitting at your office minding your website, and doing all the traditional marketing activities, you should definitely consider adding social media to your marketing mix. Mr.Right - or many Mr. Rights - may very well come along.