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Why social media for business is broken and how you can fix it

These days, even if you are not involved in social media, hardly a news bulletin is broadcast or newspaper published without all of us hearing some reference to the subject.

We tend to think of social media as a modern phenomenon, but in fact social media has been around a lot longer and actually the principles of the why and how of social, really date back to the dawn of the human race.

The problem is, as we look at what we call social media today it, in many cases, when we use it for business, bears no resemblance to what the market traders of old knew to mean “social”. Instead social media for business has become something we do rather than what we are and because of that much of what we call social media in this context is broken.

Social media broadcast

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and the “Uncle Tom Cobley and All” social media channel, all offer us an opportunity to engage, to converse, to share, to know and be known. But the problem is, with social media for business, many want to bypass the preliminaries and just shortcut to being known.

There is lot of talk of the importance of social media engagement, but in practice, what is seen more often is social media broadcast. It shouldn’t be that way. It’s rather like as people, when we get behind the wheel of a car in busy traffic; our personality changes. In the fast lane of social media, we forget who we are.

Let’s take ourselves out of the fast lane of the Internet for a moment and think about how we should communicate offline. Social media is often called social networking. So, let’s consider how you would behave and expect to be successful in an offline, face-to-face business networking meeting.

Rules of engagement

Imagine turning up to the meeting, dressed appropriately. Everything is set. You walk into the room. What do you see? People are talking to each other. Sharing business experiences. Listening. Learning. Making small steps to know and be known. If you are new to the group, you introduce yourself to people and make sure you are attentive to the dynamics of how people are conversing.

A guy enters the room. He is carrying a large and important looking bag. He opens it and out falls lots of his “stuff” – the things his business sells, his products and services. He’s there to meet lots of people, but he’s not really interested in joining the conversations. He pretends to listen, but he really wants to present his stuff. He wants to arrange a meeting with you. To help you solve a problem you haven’t got. He’s not listening.

It’s an awkward scenario. Everyone in the room feels uncomfortable. Many try to be polite, but everyone wants to distance themselves.

OK, I may be talking in extremes, but if you have ever been to a face-to-face business networking meeting you may have experienced something of the awkwardness when someone doesn’t follow the unwritten ‘rules’ of what it means to be social and is proven to work.

Taking this back to the online world of social media/marketing/networking for business; are we like the man with the bag? Are we fast tracking our stuff, in people’s faces promoting it all the time, but not really engaging with anyone?

This is very important…

The role of social media in semantic search

In the developing semantic web, where the connections between people will become as important if not more so than the connections between websites and web content, social media will be an essential component to marketing your business online. However, for social media to work for business in the social web, we need to learn to be better at being social online than doing social.

Author and social media speaker, Neal Schaeffer, uses the phrase, “New tools, old rules”. Social media opens up fantastic possibilities for business, but whilst the tools are new, the old rules of social engagement are as relevant today as they have ever been. Just as in the offline face-to-face networking world you earn credibility and favour as people begin to know, like and trust you, so it needs to be like that online. We gain authority within our business sector when others authenticate not only what we say as a result of the conversations we have, but also who we are. This is not one-way traffic. As we engage with others, so they will engage with us, and it is through the authenticity of our online conversations and behaviour within the ‘social layer’ of the semantic web, that positive signals are sounded both with those we network with, but also in semantic search.

Social changes everything

In the days pre-dating Semantic search this didn’t matter so much for your business. Whilst the dynamics of how social media for business worked (or rather should have worked), haven’t changed, it wasn’t as important. Apart from people clicking through to your website from links you posted in social media; your website, in the most part, ranked because of other factors such as how well optimised the pages were for keywords and how many vote-like links they received from other websites.

With semantic search, what will work has changed. David Amerland, in his book, Google Semantic Search, talks about how the Internet has shifted from a Web of websites to a Web of people where the authentication of your website and its content by Google comes from the outside.

David says that Google’s evaluation regarding the quality of a website still involves links, “but also the way those links are created in social media networks, how they are shared, by whom, what the person is known for generally, how widely they share those links, and what happens to them once they are shared.” (Google Semantic Search, pg. 112)

How you act and engage online in social media matters because it affects how the Web of people engages with you and how they come to know, like and trust you and what you have to say, not only in social media, but through the content you produce.

Social in the new town square

These principles, as we have seen, are not new. They have been played out offline in the business world ever since there was trade, in town and village squares, at least that is until the advent of the 20th century, when big brands came into prominence and the loudness of their voice conveyed an expectation of authority.

But as we enter the new age of semantic search, a shift has taken place and a new currency valued on trust has been minted. We have returned to an age where smaller businesses, and more importantly (remembering what was said above), people from smaller businesses online, can shake hands, engage and begin to make valuable connections with other people and potential customers – from anywhere.

In this new age of semantic search, a new town square of social media has been constructed and it is shrinking our world. You need to be there!

This is the third in a series of three articles on semantic search: