The social networking evangelists are telling everyone to jump on board the social media train, especially if you're a small business owner. It's being hailed as the greatest thing since sliced bread, and a "must-do" for business owners, but I'm in favor of a more moderate approach. I want to share my personal experience with social media, and how it has (and has not) helped me grow my business.

For this article, my comments will refer to three types of social media:
  • Blogging -- A site just like WalletPop, where articles are posted and comments from readers are often encouraged. Business owners will often write their own material, gearing it toward the interests of their clients.
  • Twitter -- A kind of "mini blog" in which posts are limited to 140 characters, offering business owners an opportunity to do a quick update or link to an item of interest on another site.
  • Social Networking – Sites like Facebook or MySpace, in which users create full-blown profiles of themselves and link to others to share contacts and information.
I work with social media on a limited basis, because I feel it has limited usefulness to a business owner. Some social networking evangelists will likely want to burn me at the stake for saying the usefulness is limited, but it's true.

These social media sites can be very helpful in creating a higher profile for yourself and your company. They can get your name out there and word-of-mouth on the internet can be very valuable. You can also use the tools to make connections you wouldn't otherwise have made. I've met some very important people through social networking, so I can't discount the value I've gotten from it.

But there can be a huge downside to social media. The main one is the amount of time that you can take away from working to participate in it. That's probably where most business owners go wrong. They spend too much time online and not much time doing work. And those who use social media have to ask themselves if their participation has really helped grow revenue for their company. If not, then the focus on social media better be changed, or reduced, or both.

For my own business, I maintain a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and have found them somewhat helpful. They have created a few valuable connections for me, but in terms of marketing my business, the results have been limited.

Blogging is another story for me, however.
That is where I devote my social media efforts, and it has paid off in a big way. Blogging has increased my site's rankings for important keywords in search engines, and that's helped more people find me. It has become a part of my platform with my book publisher, and has helped promote my books. It has offered me the opportunity to demonstrate my expertise to readers. I have developed a sizable following who visit daily to read what kinds of frauds and scams I'm reporting on. And most of all, I can trace significant revenues back to my blogging efforts.

The key with social media is moderation and results. Look at what it's really producing for you and your company, and adjust your efforts accordingly. It's easy to get caught up in these "must be a part of" sites and applications, but participation really must be done on a strategic basis. A small business owner has limited time and resources, and so they must be used wisely when it comes to social media.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.

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