Getting Social On the Web

We are a social society, so those involved in the early beginnings of the Internet back in the ’70s probably guessed that the World Wide Web would eventually become a massive social networking system.

If you have not yet participated in sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or LinkedIn, people might have good reason to suspect that you’ve just gotten back from a long interplanetary visit to Jupiter.

I recently attended a business-to-business roundtable where the topic was “Making Sense (and Dollars) Out of Social Media.” Talking about the importance of social media, discussion leader Richard Odato of Odato Marketing Group in Sarasota said “if you’re not on a social networking site, you’re not on the Internet.”

Most of the 30-plus business leaders in the room were very familiar with the importance of the Internet’s social side and wanted to learn more about how to harness that power to reach out to consumers.

Facebook has 250 million users, with 120 million using it on a daily basis, Odato said. LinkedIn, the site geared toward promoting business relationships, has 45 million users. And YouTube has 10 hours of new video added every minute. Incredible numbers, especially from a business standpoint. Many are busy creating buzz about their products and services through the sites and figuring out the do’s and don’ts of this new marketing opportunity.

Odato warned the group, however, to be cautious of the new connection avenues. Companies need to take control of their Internet footprint, he said.

That means “everyone has to think a little like a celebrity” when you are on the Internet. “There is no privacy,” he said. “Very few people are totally invisible on the Web.”

To prove the point, hop over to your computer and Google your name. Watch what pops up.

Because I am a journalist, my search netted me a number of my articles. But I also found some of my writings for my master’s thesis.

A quick survey of my office coworkers found lots of social network users — plenty of Twitterers and Facebook addicts, and many who are daily users.

What all this means for businesses is apparent, Odato says. What isn’t so apparent is how business owners need to handle social media.

“We are in the middle of a customer revolution. There are more ways than ever for consumers to tune out the traditional media,” he said. Businesses need to create compelling content and make consumers want to come to them.

Listen and learn the culture, he advised. Be honest and transparent, be authentic and inclusive, reflect the personality of your brand.

If you’re hoping to expand your social media networking skills, Odato is offering classes at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. A series of social networking classes at the college’s Lakewood Ranch campus will begin Sept. 22. The Manatee County Chamber of Commerce also is offering a class Tuesday with Kevin McNulty of NetWeaveSocial Networking.

Get social, have fun and maybe I’ll see you on the Net soon.

Jennifer Rich, Bradenton, Herald

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