A commentary on the business value of social networks

To how many social networks do you belong? How valuable are they to you? If they went away tomorrow, would you feel any impact to your business? Good questions to ask yourself.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

I often question the value of social networks--these online time-wasting pits of hell that not only drain away your precious life moments but also offer little in the way of social or networking. Maybe I should qualify that statement a bit. I don't like Facebook. In fact, I don't like Facebook so much that I've deleted my account permanently. Twitter is another one that I'm starting to question, although I've met two or three interesting people from it. Perhaps the most valuable of all social networks is LinkedIn. It is not a waste of time. I consider it to be a professional network and well worth the time spent on building your professional persona.

There are dozens of these social network sites and more popping up every day. It's astounding the number of hours that people waste on them. Updating, checking in and sending out bits and blurbs about every little aspect of one's life seems cheap to me.

I hope I'm not alone in this because in Cyberspace, everyone can hear me scream.

More astounding than individuals wasting time on these things is that businesses are also wasting time on them. Actual megabuck businesses are in on the whole social networking shtick. Shocking.

I suppose it gives new marketing grads something to do as "Social Media Specialists" but how much real value can you place on all the effort?

For a moment, let's leave LinkedIn out of this picture because it's so different in purpose and in scope.

Foursquare, reddit, digg, stumbleupon, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and on and on and on it goes. Wikipedia has a pretty good but incomplete list of them. Who spends his time on these things?

This isn't just an empty rant; I've really put some thought into this. What got me to thinking of it was that I was chatting with a friend of mine the other night and I checked out his Twitter site. He has tweeted more than 30,000 times. Thirty thousand. That's a lot of tweeting. In fact, I calculated how much tweeting that is. It's a lot.

Let's say that he's been on Twitter for five years or 1825 days. But, let's assume that he doesn't tweet on weekends and that he takes ten holidays, five sick days and five vacation days per year off of tweeting. Now he's down to 1200 days of tweeting.

30000/1200 = 25 tweets per day. In an eight hour business day, that's three tweets per hour.

How do you tweet three times per hour every day for five years?



Hire an assistant...errr, Social Media Specialist?

Who has that much to say? I thought I'd wasted a lot of time tweeting and I'm only up to 3700 tweets. 3700/1200 = 3 tweets/day for me.

And yes, I automate some of mine because I don't have time to sit around tweeting, even three times per day. Even if I did have that kind of time, I wouldn't spend it tweeting.

Interestingly, while I was contemplating this whole social networking thing, a twitter automation company contacted me wanting me to review, evaluate or check out their product and write about it. I turned them down flatly.

Let me explain my presumed* rudeness to them.

If, I queried them, everyone automated his tweets, who will read them? Let's say that out of my 2,000+ followers, 1800 of them automate their tweets and the other 200 pretty much ignore them, then to whom are we tweeting? It seems that we're burning a lot of bandwidth for no reason at all. I feel that, these days, most tweets are 100% automated. We're all automating our tweets in hopes that someone reads them and perhaps acts on them by reading an article, buying a product or taking some other action.

The reality is that no one is reading all those automated tweets. Who has time? Who has the interest?

Sure, sometimes if I catch an interesting or snarky tweet, I might retweet it but it's very rare. I will also sometimes get into Twitter "conversations" with people but that also is rare. I've even argued on Twitter, which is interesting in itself.

I think that social networking and social networks have failed. Miserably failed. Automation has killed them. Those clever APIs and software programs that allow you to automate your tweets just kind of ruin it for everyone. And now you can automate your tweets to other networks by tying them together. You can update Facebook, LinkedIn and others with a single entry.

Hopefully someone will read those automated messages.

Hopefully someone will act on those automated messages.

Please retweet me. Please "Like" me. Please repin me. It all sounds ridiculous when I say it out loud. Try it some time and you'll see (hear) what I mean.

Go around to people in a mall, for example, with an automated message going. Don't interact with anyone but allow your recorded message to play to everyone you walk near or who walks near you. If you get a smile or nod, count that as a "Like" and if someone repeats your message, that's a retweet. If someone writes your message down and puts it up on a bulletin board (they still have those, right?) then you've been repinned. Awesome.

Now, that's social networking.

Which one of the following do you think is more effective?

1. A recorded message from your favorite political candidate.

2. Your favorite political candidate actually speaking.

Are you getting the idea?

People ignore TV commercials, turn down the radio or switch stations and shut out the inundation of automated messages on <insert social networking site here>.

Now, back to LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is valuable. LinkedIn is a worthwhile pursuit. Your resume is there. Your profile is there. People with jobs are there. People looking for jobs are there. People looking to fill jobs are there. In my mind, LinkedIn is the most successful site of its kind. It's certainly the only tolerable one.

All Discussions and Groups are moderated. Nonsense is kept to a minimum. I've rarely had to deal with spam or irritation there. It's a safe haven for serious social networking, for serious business connection building and for serious relationship building.

I plan to use it a lot in 2013 and beyond. For a freelance writer, like myself, it has been a very good avenue to new gigs and new introductions. I'm glad that I'm a member. I just wish the subscription price wasn't prohibitive for me. I'd definitely buy in if it were somewhat less expensive. I think its value would increase tenfold for me. I expand my network at least once a week on LinkedIn. It has real value.

Another interesting tidbit about LinkedIn.

I received an email from LinkedIn the other day telling me that my profile has been viewed so many times that I'm in the top 1 percent of LinkedIn members. Now, maybe you also got that email but it made me feel good. Not that much has come from the honor so far but a few gigs here and there and a few interesting connections make it kind of a cool accolade.

Now, I'd like to turn those views into job offers and freelance gigs.

So, to the questions posed in the story lede: To how many social networks do you belong? How valuable are they to you? If they went away tomorrow, would you feel any impact to your business?

My answer is that you should choose one or two professional networks and farm those like you would in any other social networking situation. Leave the shotgunning to the amateurs. Make connections that count. 10,000 don't mean anything if they're not buying, reading, recommending or influencing. Don't waste your time with such pursuits. The return on investment isn't high enough.

Mass mailings don't work. Certain types of advertising just doesn't work for some businesses. Build relationships with clients. Don't rely on flash-in-the-pan online social networks to build your business. Clients and potential clients like to know that there's a 98.6 degree hand on the other end of those messages and not a piece of software.

It might sound old-fashioned and outdated but there's nothing like true social networking to build a business. And you build a business through building relationships.

*I'm presuming that you're presuming that I was rude in my rebuff. I was. But only a little rude. And I think I apologized later for it.

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