So what’s with all the buzz about social networking? What’s the difference between old school networking and social networking? As a CEO or entrepreneur, why should you care? With so much being written about the impact of social networking on business and the numerous examples of companies that are capitalizing on its many benefits, I’m amazed at how few companies still just don’t get it. Not only has social networking arrived but it is clearly here to stay All you have to do is look at the tremendously successful companies that have been built upon the platform of social networking (MySpace, YouTube, Ryze, Linked-In, Flickr, Facebook, etc.) or the unprecedented growth of the Blogosphere and you will quickly recognize that social networking is a powerful medium. In today’s post, I’ll share my thoughts about why you can’t afford to jump on the social networking bandwagon.

Let’s start with a bit of background The term “Social Networking” in its most classic sense is best defined as the study of how people interact with one another. It studies the dynamics between nodes (people) and links (their relationships). Since the term was coined in 1954 by J.A. Barnes its significance has leaped from the halls of academia to gain visibility in the boardrooms of global corporations. It has evolved from the study of human relations in sociological, anthropological, and psychological settings to the study of professional relationships and organizational theory in business environments.

The difference between “old school” networking and the current form of social networking is the introduction of technology based community and user-driven content on the internet. The proper use of blogs, podcasts, videos, webinars, and other social media gives greater voice and brand extension to a broader base of constituencies than could have ever been addressed before. When all the buzzwords and techno-jargon are removed, social networking is about aligning interests and motivations to build relationships, establish a sense of extended community, and create influence.

There are intelligent and well-established business people with virtually non-existent networks and little true influence, and there are what would on the surface appear to be obscure individuals with huge networks who wield tremendous amounts of influence.  Social networking analysis has shown that the greatest amounts of power and influence inside the corporation don’t necessarily reside at the top of the org chart as one might think. Studies have concluded that the individuals who possess the most influence in a company are the most trusted people with the broadest base of connections, and not necessarily the person that has the highest rank or biggest title. Likewise, the same holds true for external networks It is about the quality (are the people in your network significant?), character (do the people in your network trust you and do you trust them?), and relevance (are the people in your network capable of wielding influence that is aligned with your needs?) of the people in your network that matter. 

While social networking is clearly allowing major corporations to be more productive by extending their brand and having better communication throughout the entire value chain, it is its impact on small businesses that is perhaps most impressive. The ability of social networking to level the playing field for the individual practitioner and the small or medium enterprise is truly awesome. It was the Internet that established the global economy, but it is social networking that is making it a reality. Businesses who ignore social networking will regret it, those that venture in with a lack of understanding will be eaten alive by it and those that properly leverage social networking will create tremendous competitive separation.  

As a CEO or entrepreneur if you are not leveraging social networking your wrong. Forget the excuses, the rationalizations, and the justifications as you don’t have time not to embrace social media. If you are doing your job you will aggressively move to leverage both your personal and corporate brand through social networking.

If you’re a CEO who doesn’t blog wake-up and start Social networking will allow you to gain mind-share with your constituencies like never before while improving customer loyalty and increasing both personal and corporate brand equity. Social networking will allow you to better manage your reputation in the best of times and when the inevitable corporate faux-pas occurs it will allow you to stop the bleeding much faster. If you don’t understand social media and social networking hire someone who does.  

The old axioms “you’ll reap what you sew” or “give and you shall receive” have never been more accurate than when applied to social networking. If you are truly motivated to provide value and benefit to those in your network then you will receive value in return. However, if you are a user and abuser of your network, only taking from others and giving nothing in return, you will bleed your network dry only to watch it crumble before your eyes. With proper motivation, careful construction, and active management of your network there is no reason to assume that it won’t be a success. Focus on leveraging the most important spheres of influence for the mutual benefit of those in your network. If you adopt the suggestions contained in this post and embrace social networking your personal network will grow with geometric progression while spanning industries, geographies, and cultures. Moreover, you’ll extend your corporate brand, increase customer loyalty, and create a broader sense of community both inside and outside the enterprise.