Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
By Mike Gould
Networking used to mean just the physical face-to-face interactions that make up our business life: going to meetings, visiting colleagues and clients, and showing up at various biz-related gatherings and seminars. Then came the Internet and networking grew to include digital networks, the linking together of our work-selves via computers tied to wires and wireless systems. But sometimes networking comes around full circle; visiting in person (or "meatspace", as we geeks call it) to talk about meeting in cyberspace.
And that is what I did last week when I attended a marketing roundtable at the SPARK HQ in downtown Ann Arbor.
Birds of a Feather
Ann Arbor SPARK's mission is "Advancing Economic Development in Ann Arbor" and is the result of a collection of local business, government, education and economic development leaders collaborating to find a better way to market the Ann Arbor region as a viable, thriving place to do business.
SPARK has been hosting a monthly series of roundtables, and I attended the March 11 meeting, which focused on Social Networking. The event was hosted by Ingenex Digital Marketing, and its CEO, Derek Mehraban led a discussion with panelists Edward Vielmetti, Terry Bean, and Lori Laurent Smith.
This series of talks is described on the SPARK website (URL below): "The 2008 Marketing Roundtable is a ten-session monthly series featuring regional talent who will discuss practical and cost-effective innovation marketing. Program topics range from brand strategy to social media, and from financial accountability to guerrilla marketing."
A brand-new blog which discusses these topics is online at: http://www.thedigitalbus.com/, and the outline of this meeting is there. Contact info for the various speakers can also be found here.
Not Your Average Business Seminar
I love this sort of event. Free food, interesting people to meet and greet, and a lively discussion of topics du jour digital. Before the panel, the 75 or so people mingled, met, handed out business cards and discussed biz, media, and what their kids were up to. Karl Zinn from the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum brought a lovable robot dinosaur ("Pleo") to show off, and I talked to a bunch of friends I see at Ann Arbor Ad Club meetings, and others I used to see at the now-defunct (sniff) SEO seminars.
I got wind of the event from Ed Vielmetti, who hosts the A2B3 lunch group every Thursday at the Asian Accents Restaurant. This group is made up of fellow web workers and others involved in local digital businesses.
Derek started the meeting by inviting people to write questions as things proceeded, and the questions were worked into the proceedings. Derek's talk is outlined here:
- Be Social.
- Optimize Your Network.
- Spread Good Karma.
- Pay Attention.
- Work It.
The rest of the gist is at the Digital Bus site.
Talking About Connections Most of the discussion involved standard business practices, but with a digital twist. The stress was on establishing and promoting a business presence on the Web via blogging, presence on such social sites as LinkedIn, and FaceBook, and using communications services such as Twitter.
Facebook started in 2004 as a social networking website, originally aimed at students, and has grown into an enormously popular service with more than 64 million users worldwide (according to Wikipedia). It has been the center of various controversies over privacy, censorship, and other issues, and its use may be peaking.
LinkedIn hit the Web in 2003 and is a more business-oriented community. I joined up a couple of years ago, at the invitation of David Bloom (now an executive director at SPARK) and Linda Girard of Pure Visibility. Luddite that I am, I don't take full advantage of all that is available, but I get notices of interesting events and updates as to what various colleagues (called "connections") are up to.
Twitter is a new (2006) sort of communications protocol, related more to Instant Messaging than to web-based communities. Members can sent short (140 character) messages called "tweets" to friends and colleagues to keep them up to date on what they are doing at any given moment.
Lori Laurent Smith of Media Meme pointed out that YouTube (video) and Flickr (photography) are valuable places to do marketing that can be quite inexpensive to produce. If you can put together a funny video about some aspect of your business, you can build branding very inexpensively. (You may recall I wrote about this last November: "Im in ur meme" available at http://mondodyne.com/b2b/smbiznet.117.shtml). She also mentioned StumbleUpon as a site ideal for "lazy marketers" looking for ways to increase brand awareness.
One question from the audience sparked an interesting discussion: someone asked "If LinkedIn and FaceBook had a fight and it was refereed by Twitter, who would win?" Ed Vielmetti said he thought Twitter would win, as it is more suited to hand-held devices.
Point, Counter Point
The same day I attended this meeting, I read an interesting rant on Robert Cringely's site, I, Cringely. His take is that " Internet social networking is another CB radio, destined to crash and burn."
For you whipper-snappers out there, CB radio was a brief craze back in the early 70s; it enabled people to talk to each other for the first time ("network") while driving their cars. This was way before cell phones, the Internet, and email and gave people a taste of what was to come. CB radios have faded as a popular meme, but continue where they belong, in the hands of truckers.
I don't think Social Networking is going away, but nature of it in the future of it is as imponderable as interpolating Star Trek communicators from walkie-talkies. I can foresee us with brain-implants that handle our communications via hyperspace; just not any time soon. Hmm... business communications evolving into the Borg Collective... I dunno...
Sites mentioned above:
Mike Gould, is a part-time mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.