The ROI of Social Networking

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People are jumping on the social networking bandwagon left and right in hopes of drumming up more business. But is it working?

We wanted to reach younger accountants who we knew are on Facebook, so we started a Facebook page for Accounting Tomorrow, and now they're reading our stories.

The ROI seemed easy to prove because it involved very little "I," other than the zillions of hours my colleague and I are putting into it in addition to our regular jobs as editors at Accounting Technology and Accounting Today.

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Then like wildfire we noticed editors from other publications and business people in general starting their own pages (many of the older ones with help from their kids).

I have to admit it was exciting to see someone in their 70s trying to experiment with technology that their grandchildren use.

Some of them posted their pictures, wrote "testing, testing," and then pretty much abandoned it. Others started actively participating in conversations.

Then came Twitter.

My first instinct was, this is just like a mass text message to the world. I can see why teenagers would love it, but how many adults - especially ones in my professional network - do I need to tell what I'm doing right at that moment?

When I posed the question to my Facebook friends about whether they Tweeted and why, the biggest response I got was that it drove hits to their sites or blogs. So from a marketing perspective, it worked. But that begs the question: Now what? You have more traffic, what are you going to do with it? How is it going to make you money in the long run, if that's even your goal? What is your goal? Do you even know?

I'm willing to bet that a lot of people don't.

There's a great deal of potential ROI that could come from using social networking tools. LinkedIn is one example of a way to connect with old colleagues when seeking employment, looking to hire someone or wishing to collaborate with others in the industry on projects. But ever since I started using Facebook, I barely see any LinkedIn activity.

Twitter is like an RSS feed on steroids. Some associates of mine told me they enjoy that because it's like a giant search engine they check every morning. I tried RSS feeds and I quickly did away with them because it was impossible to read everything that came my way. So as of now, I'm only following a few people because some of them post two dozen Tweets a day. I just don't care about everything they deem important enough to tell everyone about.

In March, Twitter launched paid commercial accounts, starting with Microsoft, called ExecTweets. But considering the director of community marketing for Microsoft's Dynamics products admitted several problems with their own internal blogs and discussion forums, I don't know what Microsoft or other companies expect to get out of it, especially with a 140-character limit. The director said he wasn't sure of Microsoft's plans, either, but he'll be watching to see what unfolds.

When I pose questions on Facebook, asking who can talk to me about a particular topic, they never go unanswered. And the answers are high quality. I've also been extremely happy with the results I've received from LinkedIn Answers, though that is more of a searchable knowledgebase of topics that have already been posted and the answers are coming from strangers.

The responses I liked most about the ROI of social networking are that it has to go hand in hand with real networking and that one method alone isn't enough.

My favorite answer came from Wayne Schulz, a business and technology consultant and admitted social media addict who I believe posts on Facebook and Tweets in his sleep:

"Will Twitter bring in clients? Probably not," he wrote on my wall. "Will a combination of Twitter, Facebook and a good newsletter? Now you're thinking."

Accounting Tomorrow is a monthly column in Accounting Technology magazine that runs in conjunction with a SourceMedia Web site dedicated to stories addressing intergenerational issues, www.accountingtomorrow.com.

(c) 2009 Accounting Technology and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

http://www.webcpa.com/ http://www.sourcemedia.com/

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