Use Social Media to Enhance Face-to-Face Networking

MySpace. Facebook. Blogs. It seems like only yesterday these were just incomprehensible sounds mixed into the conversations of my teenaged grandchildren. Later, employees of Black Enterprise, led by our Technology Editor Sonya A. Donaldson, began insisting that this strange new thing called social media was changing global industry and would offer fantastic opportunities to help level the playing field for black entrepreneurs. I’ll be honest: I was among many in our company who didn’t initially appreciate the potential of social media for our business.

Today, I know that social media Websites are not just for kids. For example, according to the iStrategyLabs 2009 Facebook Demographics Statistics Report, the number of Facebook users ages 35 to 54 grew by 276% in the last six months of 2008—and this includes many adult members of my own family. More importantly, I understand the critical role social media plays in the future of Black Enterprise, particularly as it relates to our digital media business. In fact, when we launched the current version of BlackEnterprise.com last year, it was specifically designed to enable our visitors to share our content among their networks on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I know that our audience does not just want to receive information; they want to engage in the conversation, contributing and sharing their ideas as well. Similarly, advertisers and sponsors will no longer accept the barriers between them and the markets they are trying to understand and appeal to; social media allows them to directly engage their customers and prospects, to learn what they want and need in their time, space, and communities.

The impact of social media on the ability of entrepreneurs and professionals to network is undeniable. At first glance, you might even assume that face-to-face interaction with others in your business or industry, in the form of conferences, events, and networking functions, is no longer necessary. And you would be dead wrong. The effective use of social media does not replace traditional networking; it enhances the face-to-face relationship-building experience.

We witnessed this reality in action at the 2009 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference in Detroit in May, where entrepreneurs in attendance had already begun to establish relationships and identify prospects to connect with long before they arrived. I also expect to see it at the 2009 Black Enterprise/Pepsi Golf & Tennis Challenge, which will be held in Orlando, Florida, at the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes, Sept. 3–7. Our traditional marketing of both events was heightened by the buzz generated by Black Enterprise enthusiasts—not employed by or otherwise affiliated with our company—eager to share the latest that be has to offer with their social media networks.

Experts on social media emphasize that the most effective business professionals and entrepreneurs use online networking and content sharing tools to enhance their personal brands, establish their expertise and credibility, and ultimately build the quality relationships that result in actual transactions—signing contracts, closing deals, and landing jobs—making real-world networking more productive, better targeted, and ultimately, more profitable.

Now, don’t expect to find me on Facebook or among your followers on Twitter any time soon. But, I do look forward to seeing you at the 2009 Black Enterprise Golf & Tennis Challenge.

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