who-you-know-cardYou don’t need to convince business owners, executives or professionals about the importance of their business networks. They get it. Who you know often trumps what you know in terms of creating real business opportunities and advantages.

Yet, many of these same professionals often overlook online social networking and fail to take advantage of the huge opportunity it represents to grow and nurture their business networks and relationships.

There are many reasons for this, but here are three big ones:

  • Time limitations – social networking takes time that many of these business leaders don’t have and won’t make;
  • Lack of skill – business professionals know how to have relationships, but not necessarily in the setting of online social networks;
  • Lack of awareness – busy people who don’t know how to have relationships online adds up to a lack of awareness of what is even possible through social networking.

Then, there’s the marketing problem.

Social networks aren’t that great for brand marketers

It turns out that social networks aren’t that great for brand marketing – for most types of businesses.

In his excellent piece Stop Social Media Marketing, Augie Ray points to a number of studies showing that social media brand marketing (defined as pure earned media, excluding advertising in social networks) doesn’t measure up in terms of building trust, acquiring prospects or driving purchases when compared with other marketing channels.

Ray suggests there are other, more effective opportunities for leveraging social media, such as public relations, corporate communications, product development and customer service.

Social networks are fueled by social capital

Anyone with experience in social networks knows that effective social networking isn’t about marketing and shouldn’t be reduced to it.

Social networking – for business owners, executives or professionals – should instead be about communicating and building relationships with the goal of accumulating social capital.

Building social capital is more akin to investing for long-term accumulation than for short-term profits. It requires the investment of value (your time and insight) without the expectation of any immediate return.

Building social capital online should be a slam dunk for ANYONE who is the primary driver of their business.


As much as financial and human capital, social capital is necessary for your success in business and arguably the most important measure of the value of social networking. In fact, one study suggests as much as 33 percent of the variance in sales performance can be attributed to one’s social capital. (For a great discussion of social capital and an inspiration for this post, see 4 Reasons Social Capital Trumps All.)

Here are three additional ways that building social capital can fuel your business success:

1. Social capital establishes leadership

Investing in people, sharing your knowledge and helping others establishes you as a leader within your network. Everyone wants to do business with a leader. Whether you’re hiring an executive, or choosing a firm or a professional advisor to do business with, people want to work with a recognized leader in their field. That’s because leadership within your industry and professional network acts as a form of social proof.

How to establish leadership in social networks?

  • Find and share great content in your field of expertise.
  • Participate in topical discussions and always add value and maintain respectful discourse.
  • Invest time in writing and sharing your professional insights.

boomerang-sky2. Social capital fosters reciprocity

Humans are hard-wired to reciprocate. If I invite you to lunch and pay, you want to return the favour. It’s partly about fairness, but also about a feeling that we owe something to the person who has given without asking. Giving value of any kind, whether it’s your time or knowledge or help, without compensation fosters a sense of fairness and reciprocity among the people in your network.

How to foster reciprocity in social networks?

  • Give not only money, but also your time, to the community.
  • Help people whenever you can by answering questions and pointing people in the right direction.
  • Adopt a “pay it forward” mentality in your social networking engagement.

3. Social capital strengthens internal teams

Leadership and a strong sense of reciprocity aren’t just drivers for your external relationships – they also contribute to building your internal team. Maintaining strong, honest and mutually beneficial relationships within your organization is just as important.

How to strengthen your internal teams in social networks?

  • Pay attention to and engage team members that are active in social networks.
  • Look for opportunities to share colleagues’ content.
  • Lead by example.

Stop thinking about social networks in term of marketing and instead focus on deepening relationships, developing thought leadership and growing your social capital. You will find you get a lot more from your investment.