The relational power of Facebook for business networking

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facebook for business networking

By Mark Schaefer

Is Facebook the most effective business tool on the planet?

Normally social media + business means “LinkedIn,” but today I want to give you something to think about in terms of Facebook’s role in building business relationships.

The cusp of a crisis

I have a friend who is a plant manager for a large manufacturing facility. A couple of years ago he faced a crisis — his plant was about to go on strike. Relations between the plant’s management and union had hit a wall. People were so angry with each other they refused to meet. Even worse, it was at the point where a meeting was being seen as a sign of weakness on each side.

My friend knew a strike would be a lose-lose. The plant could lose customers at a difficult time in their business cycle. In fact, some customers were already hedging their bets, anticipating a strike. For the union, weeks — maybe even months — of wages could be lost and the community would be torn apart.

The irony was, my friend and the union president had been friends for 20 years. In fact, they were even Facebook friends. And now, they weren’t even talking. The union expected their president to give a cold shoulder to management even though they had a history together.

But he had an idea.

Facebook for business networking

Late one evening, my friend sent a private message to the union president on Facebook lamenting how bad things had turned. To his surprise, the union chief responded within moments. They sat up most of the night chatting back and forth, providing honest communication to each other on what would have to happen to get the two sides to meet again. Eventually they did meet, came to an agreement, and miraculously avoided a strike.

Even when all other communication channels failed — the union was not even returning email — Facebook worked.

Why?

I’m not completely sure. But it seems that communications on Facebook have some magical priority. People ALWAYS answer you on Facebook. Facebook is about family and friends, and people always respond to family and friends. It’s as if Facebook is a place that demands connection.

The hierarchy of social business connections

I’ve written in my book The Tao of Twitter and in several posts that Twitter is the most powerful networking tool ever created. I still believe that because it is so easy to discover relevant new contacts and find a way to connect with them, even if they don’t follow you back.

Twitter is a sort of gateway drug for business connections. But it is normally a thin thread of connection, a weak relational link.

The next step in the social business hierarchy is LinkedIn. Getting a return follow on LinkedIn is a little more difficult. Many business professionals only include people they actually know in their LinkedIn tribe. And there isn’t a lot of chit-chat going on there so it’s not easy creating an actionable bond.

Still, becoming a formal connection on LinkedIn is a step up on the hierarchy of business connections.

And then there is Facebook …

Building an emotional bond

Here is one thing I’ve learned over time. My best customers become my friends. I still have close connections to customers I worked with more than 10 years ago. There is just something special about working in close collaboration with another business professional that I have always enjoyed. I have been invited to my customer’s weddings. I have stayed in their homes, I know their children.

So even though Facebook is generally reserved for friends and family, I do think eventually there is a place for business contacts on Facebook. And when that happens, you are at the top of the business relationship hierarchy.

For Twitter friends I will return a tweet. For LinkedIn friends I will answer a complex question. For most of my best Facebook friends, I would get on a plane if they needed me.

For me, it’s not a game and it’s more than a business courtesy. Connecting to customers on Facebook is elevating a true, meaningful friendship with the men and women in your life who transcend mere business transactions.

… But they’re not your “family”

I want to end this post with a cautionary note.

I see many people casually refer to their social media connections as their “Facebook family” or their Instagram “fam” or whatever. This may not be the term of endearment you intend.

When I was studying in a graduate psychology program, I learned about the complex emotional baggage that goes with the word “family.” For some, it is something that is singular and sacred. For others, it represents regret, sadness … and perhaps even something horrible.

“Family” is arguably the least neutral term in the English language. It is going to create a strong response in most people, and not always a positive one. I’m always a little taken aback when people refer to me as part of their social media “family.” I’m like … well … I don’t even know you, let alone call you a relative!

OK. Psychology lesson over. The point of this post is that Facebook can be a place for intimate and powerful connections … even beyond neighborhood friends and your “real” family. Do you include customers in your Facebook tribe?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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