Is Social Media Killing Traditional Business Networking?

Social media is being touted as the holy grail of business marketing and communications. While these platforms may bring your business some measure of ROI (if used properly), there's still nothing like traditional business networking via email, personal phone calls, and face-to-face meetings.

Yesterday, this infographic was posted over at Mashable depicting, quite poignantly, the world's apparent obsession with the social media juggernaut, Facebook.

After reading statistics, like "As of 2011, there are 500,000,000 active Facebook users. Approximately 1 in every 13 people on Earth," and "... 72.1% of the U.S. Web audience is on Facebook," combined with the hype (and, yes, some of it is just that- hype) surrounding social media as a business marketing tool, it's little wonder why countless small business owners are trying to jump on the social media bandwagon.

But in the rush to connect, be-friend, follow and be followed, many small business owners may only end up funneling precious time and resources down a virtual black hole, all while stepping away from the tried and true methods of interacting with their customers and building solid business relationships.

Many small businesses owners have jumped headfirst into social media only to later pick up their heads and realize that there was very little gain for all the time and effort invested.

That said, there are three main points for small business owners to consider before directing limited marketing dollars and time towards social media away from other marketing initiatives:

1. For social media to be effective you have to have enough time to invest in it. The Social Media Marketing Industry Report sponsored by the Social Examiner in 2009 revealed that those who were the most successful with their social media campaigns were spending some 10-20 hours a week, or 2-4 hours a day in a standard work-week, on these initiatives.

2. There's a great deal of noise out there as everyone clamors to build their online profiles, broadcast, and tweet, and even more so, as exploiters of the system gain prominence. This means being able to stand out so your customers can hear or see you will get harder as time goes by.

3. The downside to social media is that it has made business communication (and relationships in general) less personal. Even if the world is currently obsessed with Facebook, there are already some signs of a backlash. Those businesses that keep the majority of their marketing efforts focused on a more personalized approach via direct email marketing campaigns, phone calls, and in-person meetings may come out on top in the end with a more loyal customer-base.

In short, social media can be a valuable tool for business marketing and communications, generating exposure, creating new opportunities for partnerships, allowing businesses to quickly gather and disseminate information, and ultimately generate sales. But how these tools are used, which tools to use, and to what extent to use them really depends on your particular business model as well as your available resources (more on this in my next post.)

Bottom line: there's no one-size-fits-all approach to using social media for business marketing and communications, and small business owners would do well to look before they leap on the social media bandwagon.