Francis Wade | How social media skills are changing business forever
Is social media just a passing fad that mature businesspeople can safely ignore? Is it all just a waste of time? Doesn't lasting, meaningful social activity take place only in person, not over the Internet?
Recently, a Kingston-based friend of mine was intent on taking a destination vacation in the United States with his extended family of nine. He booked 10 days in a motel, thinking that was his best option.
However, after he googled the destination, he discovered AirBnB, the short-term rental service. A search of the neighbourhood revealed that he could get a beautiful private house in the same location for half the price.
But there was a catch. He learned that AirBnB landlords are not obligated to rent their property to anyone who can afford it. Instead, they only approve people they trust.
How does someone who has never met you and lives thousands of miles away come to entrust you, a stranger, with one of their prized possessions? The answer might be obvious - social media.
If you are an AirBnB renter who has never used the service before - and, therefore, has never been rated on the website by a landlord - you are an unknown entity. In order to reduce the risk, the service encourages property owners to do something unusual.
They learn how to check you out online via sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and company websites.
Your public presence, on social media, in particular, helps determine whether or not you represent a high risk; the kind of tenant who will ruin their home.
In this case, my friend had a problem. Porn hackers had just taken over his Facebook account, forcing him to start a new one.
To a stranger, it would appear as if he had just joined the social network a week ago a big red flag.
The answer was simple. He needed to beef up his LinkedIn profile so that prospective landlords would come to see him as a competent, trusted person.
Unfortunately, up until then, his profile looked like an orphan - a place he had visited only once or twice. We added a headshot, biographical data and details of his work history. In a day or two, the landlord signalled her satisfaction and the subsequent vacation was a total success.
The fact is, a weak online presence may not elicit critiques from your close business associates here in Jamaica.
They, like you, may argue "they don't have the time" to "play around" with social media. Listening mostly to each other, you may all be convinced that it's unimportant.
It may be an echo chamber: a comfort zone in which your friends are just saying and doing the same things.
You may be mistaken in thinking that it doesn't matter. Obviously, your lack of a profile communicates something to the landlords on AirBnB. The broader question for business-people is "Who else might care?"
A while back, my wife received a message from a man who was coming to Jamaica from Europe to do some business. He wanted to meet her and possibly engage her services in the future.
A quick check on LinkedIn raised suspicions: his profile was also an orphan written in utterly vague language.
It took some time, but deeper Google searches showed that his company had a reputation for running a particular scam. Apparently, they knew how to enter a country and extract the information they needed for free before selling it to their clients.
My wife declined the meeting.You may be comfortable with the unclear image you are creating online, but there may be opportunities to receive discounts that are passing you by.
Also, others outside Jamaica may be ignoring your offers to engage, or are making sure they are too busy to take your call.
Social media use for business purposes requires a distinct skill, but don't wait for the classroom training to be offered. These platforms are evolving too rapidly.
Last year, I picked up an e-book that described in detail the skills required to make effective use of the latest version of LinkedIn.
I was shocked. Unknown to me, the social network had evolved. Within a few weeks, I picked up hundreds of new connections in one of my key markets overseas.
By contrast, Facebook business pages have recently been rendered impotent. Only paid advertisements are actually making their way to fans' news feeds, forcing many companies' strategies to change.
The landscape is changing so fast that the rules must be relearnt every few months. That's why you simply cannot set up a social media unit and relax. These are now executive skills that cannot be explained in the abstract they must be experienced first-hand.
In fact, they have become far from optional. They represent a must-have for the business-person who is serious and global-minded.
• Francis Wade is the author of 'Perfect Time-Based Productivity', keynote speaker and management consultant. To receive a free summary of links to his past articles, send email to: email@example.com .