Businesses should be getting into social networking, as this white paper by AT&T explains, but in practical life it is hard for businesses to do.

The benefits are clear; if a corporation can connect with its’ customers on a more meaningful level, many good things can happen. First, their products and services can be improved if they receive detailed feedback from their customers. Also, they can attract new customers from being able to cast a wider net as more potential customers find out about them. Undoubtedly, especially when it comes to small businesses, social networks can be invaluable. As the article states, the ability to find niche audiences on the web can quickly grow a business as they find customers from a wide range of geographic locations.

Benefits of social networking to small businesses

I think a lot of the advice in the Business Impacts white paper would be helpful for the small businesses that I’m trying to target in my website. Becoming involved in social networking can help to expand your business and allow you to grow fast as a company. It can also help you to get the word out to a particular target market that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to access. Another good thing about social networking is that it helps your company to be transparent. In this day and age, customers can find out a lot of information about your company on the internet, and they can easily compare your pricing and services to the competition. Building a presence on social networking sites and a blog presence can help to remind people of your brand and of its existence.

Another aspect of social networking that the article mentioned was internally within your company. I think back to jobs I’ve had and I believe it would have been really helpful to have an employee intranet, perhaps somewhat similar to Facebook in a way, that I could connect with my co-workers quickly and more personally. This would be especially useful for corporations with offices across the U.S. and abroad because it would make the workplace more personal.

How NOT to do social networking

While all these benefits are obviously excellent, like I said before, in terms of corporate blogs it’s hard for businesses to do. This article called Most Corporate Blogs are Unimaginative Failures by the Wall Street Journal explains the pitfalls many companies have fallen into when it comes to corporate blogging. Many business-to-business blogs the article explains are “dull, drab, and don’t stimulate discussion,” with most rarely getting comments and many just restating news stories.

The really hard thing to do is to make the blog consistently interesting, and being transparent while at the same time protecting intellectual property. I worked at a job where we had a corporate blog and it was just as the Wall Street Journal article warned- dull, drab, and BORING. I tried to read one of the blog entries once and couldn’t even finish it out of boredom. I would say, if you’re going to do a company blog, you have to come up with compelling content that people will want to read, otherwise it will be totally useless. But it can be really hard to spice things up as a blog writer for a corporation or small business, because you have to censor yourself and represent the company in a good light. This can result in a watered-down piece of writing, with not much to give to the reader. The key may be for corporations to allow these writers more freedom in what they write about. But many corporations don’t want to give up that type of control over their image, as the AT&T whitepaper warned. Here is an excerpt from the article:

An important consequence to the impact of Social Networking is also that companies need to be ready to lose control of their image: it might be extraordinarily disturbing for many organizations, nevertheless if communication is done within the above roadmap, it will generate sound payback.

The lesson to take away from this whitepaper is to explore social networking options, but tread cautiously.