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Does social media have any place in business?

Social media is all the rage. But does is help to make meaningful business connections? Help find a new job? Or help find answers to pressing needs or questions?
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By John Alexander

Social media is all the rage. But does is help to make meaningful business connections?
Help find a new job? Or help find answers to pressing needs or questions?

I believe the answer is mixed at best but, carefully used, there are ways to make the most of social networking in business.

Personally, I have found business alumni (previous employer) networks helpful in letting
business friends know about new job opportunities and getting answers to industry
specific questions.

I have used LinkedIn to find out if anyone I knew had a relationship
with someone at a company I had need to contact. I have used my college/grad-school
alumni associations to do the same. I have fired questions out into the ether and answers
wonderfully come back. Responses have been good, fast, and generally helpful.

Where I have seen social media in business fair miserably is where it has been used
as a substitute for making a personal connection.

For example, I have a good friend looking for work. She has been aggressive in fashioning
a resume, posting it to job sites,emailing it with cover notes to potential employers,
networking through Facebook and other social networks. She expects that this is enough for
employers to contact her. To invite her to an interview. For them to make the
effort to directly contact her. After over a year, she is still looking.

Through my various business email addresses, I receive invitations to join all sorts
of social networks. From people I don’t know, from organizations I never heard of.
Frankly, I don’t have the time for this type of networking.

I don’t know many busy people who do.

Those people I know who do use these networks seem to get satisfaction
from the time spent and the exchange of communication. My wife, for instance spends
hours each week on Facebook corresponding with people (famous and otherwise) she
doesn’t know in the face-to-face sense.

I am stuck by the similarity to the current TV commercial where a daughter is bemoaning
the fact that her parents only have 12 friends on Facebook while she has over 600.
She doesn’t understand why they are outside, with friends, biking, camping, enjoying
their friends … while she is sitting in front of a computer, exchanging written quips
with “friends” she has never met on a social network. She says having friends on her
social network is “really living.”

Sad but true.

Back to my friend. She believes that the easy route for her -- social media and email-- is
the best way to make contact and has ignored advice to make personal contact.

She's also ignored advice to call the companies where she has an interest and ask for an informational interview; to send a letter through the U.S. Mail to differentiate herself from all the others who rely upon email and social media; to follow up; to make a personal connection with the hiring manager, the employer, the person.

I believe that there is no replacement for making a personal connection in friendships and in business.

Looking someone in the eye is a very human way to connect with another person and very different that the written word alone.

My friend has a wonderful personally that augments the experience on her resume that the resume can never fully communicate.

So where can social networking be most helpful? I have found that this where personal
relationships have been established first. So, a ping from or to a friend (that is a real
friend where I know the person, have spoken with them, and have a relations based upon
human interaction) results in a caring response just as if I’d made a phone call.

In these circumstances, social networks can augment the speed of information exchange. But
social networks cannot replace the human connection.

John Alexander is President of Business Development Advisors,
Founder and Chair of the Twin Cities Angels, and business author
of the Angel Investment Tax Credit. Email him

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