Facebook as a Business Development Tool

facebook_pic1Facebook is social networking tool that is quickly outpacing MySpace, one of the original social networking applications. While MySpace appeals to a younger audience, pre-teens to young adults, Facebook aims to attract a larger audience, including adults of all ages. Facebook is essentially a communal homepage where you post a profile and other users you have connected to as “friends” can follow your postings, such as a status update, photos and videos. Your friends can contribute comments to your postings so you have some resemblance of a conversation.

It’s a very social environment and many people use it to keep up with friends and family. It is therefore not particularly well suited for business purposes. The personal nature of the wall writings and deluge of requests for little green plants and sea monsters are not conducive to presenting a professional presence. But many of your business contacts may be on Facebook and not other applications, so it’s possible that this may still be the best social networking platform to manage your relationship with them.

Facebook, like MySpace, has the capability of letting people connect and stay in touch with friends and family. I have connected with old friends I haven’t seen for years. As they post status updates to their “wall,” I get a chance to follow what’s going on in their life. Sometimes this is a bit more intimate than one would experience via other communication tools; e-mail, telephone and even face-to-face meetings. Your friend’s posts to other users appear on your wall and if that person is not part of your friends list, you don’t see the their side of their conversation. This stilted form of conversation can be awkward and you sometimes eavesdrop into some very personal comments that don’t make sense because of the one-sided conversation!

I quickly learned that I had both colleagues and business contacts in my friends list and that I need to be circumspect in my comments as my postings would appear on their walls. So I created a second Facebook account for my business colleagues. But this has proven to be cumbersome to manage. It was tricky to set up as I needed a second cell phone number to validate the account. And you must log out and login to switch identities depending what you want to say and to whom. And I have received friend requests on my personal account from business associates. Instead of accepting these I log out of my personal account, login my business account and send them a friend request. This is an extra hassle and time consuming and I’m not sure it’s worth the effort as Facebook does not have a huge potential for generating new business.

Facebook also supports groups. I created the Legal 1-to-1 group in support of this blog. The group provides two main features. One, it has a discussion board where you can post topics. This is an opportunity to collect information from your followers to see what topics are of interest to them, as well as their opinion on topics you have opined on a blog. Blogs to offer the ability to comment but a discussion board is far more flexible and dynamic. Two, as administrator I can broadcast a message to the group members. This turns my group into a list. My main purpose of broadcasting a message is to send alerts to them when I’ve updated my blog. Again, the goal is to bring readers to my blog where I can establish a rapport

So far I have been unable to entice any comments to the forum. But the group membership has limited numbers right now and I haven’t spent any real effort to promote the group so I would not expect much participation at this early stage. But that does raise another issue, you must view your social networking strategy as a campaign. You are basically marketing yourself. Therefore you should put together a marketing plan on who you want to target, how are you going to reach them, and how to you intend to qualify and convert those contacts into work.

My overall impression on Facebook is that it can be a useful tool for some business development activities but it’s social and entertainment bent relegates it to more an ancillary tool. Much of what you want to do accomplish in Facebook can be done with LinkedIn, which is more business oriented. There may be opportunities for connecting with prospects and clients that may not be on LinkedIn, but be forewarned that if you use Facebook for personal reasons, such as connecting to friends and family, that information you post can be easily seen by your business contacts as well. So I would restrict connections to only those with whom you already have a personal comfort level.

If you receive a friend request from a business contact with whom you do not have that comfort level, ignore the Facebook request and send your own LinkedIn request in response. You are under no obligation to accept everyone’s friend request. And by sending your own LinkedIn request your are still being social and remain connected to the contact. If the contact questions why simply explain that you do have a Facebook account but don’t really use it much but that you do follow LinkedIn more closely so you’d rather stay connected using that service instead.

I believe a tool like LinkedIn is better suited for a personal business development campaign than Facebook. Since we all have limited time to manage this effort its very difficult to manage a social networking communication strategy on multiple platforms. So it makes more sense to focus on LinkedIn because it has a broader reach in the business-to-business arena, is a more acceptable social networking platform to your target audience, and has the tools you need to drive contacts to your blog. Use Facebook sparingly for only those business contacts with whom you have a personal relationship as they will have access to your posts to friends and family that will provide them with a glimpse into your personal life.

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4 comments so far

  1. Holly Powell on

    different social networking sites like facebook offers great tools for business and I believe the other sites as well. One site may be better over the other based on a persons perception. Each social networking sites is different from others and by joining those sites only you can tell which is great for you and for your business.. Thanks for sharing this insightful posts..Looking forward to reading other great posts.

    • Bill Vannerson on

      >>One site may be better over the other based on a persons perception.

      I agree, however it’s important to remember that the perception that matters is the target contact’s perception. So even if the attorney is comfortable with Facebook, he or she needs to measure the number and level of involvement with their target market. I think this is especially important given the limited time attorneys have to spend on business development, although perhaps with the down economy and slower business, perhaps now is a perfect time to invest in branding and marketing yourself.

  2. Laura Desjean on

    Bill, thanks for the great thoughts on the value of FB vs LinkedIn. Another site that I think has received much less attention is LegalOnRamp. It is precisely for in-house counsel and invited outside lawyers and third party service providers. You have to submit an application and be accepted to participate, so the community is much more targeted. I believe I submitted my application before it was very stringent because for some reason, they let me in. I admit I haven’t been very active on it yet though.

    Thanks again. Keep the great information coming.

  3. Mara McCall on

    I’m not a attorney but am trying to figure out how to use social networking to market my graphics company. Found this VERY helpful. Thanks.


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