There's no doubt about it, everybody is talking about social media these days and it seems that everybody is talking on social media. It truly is the communication 'darling' of our age. However, as tends to be the case with most activities and disciplines once we've been involved with them for a while, we can become a little stuck in our ways, going through the motions rather than fully expanding and exploring all possibilities.
It's a little bit like driving a supercharged sports car to the local shop and back each day, all the while forgetting that a weekend blast along a scenic coastal road (staying within safe speed limits, of course) would amply demonstrate what it was truly capable of. Familiarity tends to breed routine, and routine doesn't typically lead to exciting new ideas.
Here are a few uses, both business and personal, in which social media works well. Some are obvious, but others may not have immediately sprung to mind.
Take a look and see what you think ...
Finding friendship: I've 'met' friends via Twitter who are now amongst my closest confidantes. We're in regular contact, and this is all down to striking up an online conversation. Finding a like-minded and supportive friend is one of life's true joys, and social media enables the process perfectly.
Fact-finding: Whether it's to establish if someone is right for a job or simply determining if there is synergy between two parties, going behind the scenes to find some 'off the record' information is always useful. Many people tend to let their guard down on social networks so watch out... You may well discover more than you bargained for!
Prospecting: If you're a business then the search for new customers can be relentless, and whilst I would never advocate using social media to deliver your sales pitch, it can offer unparalleled scope for identifying possible new markets. Type a few keywords into Twitter's search tool, for example, and see what's being said by whom.
Networking: How often have I heard the old adage "it's not what you know, it's who you know"? It's as true today as it's always been. A simple introduction can be the break you've been waiting for, and social media is a superb way of finding new contacts with whom you could build a fantastic mutually beneficial partnership.
Awareness: A small business can offer the most amazing product or service that the planet has ever witnessed, but if nobody knows about it then the business plan will bear no fruit. Getting your name out there and engaging in conversations will draw attention to you and what you do. Build awareness and be ever-present as a reminder to your community... It will put you on their radar.
Problem solving: Do you ever sit and contemplate which of two options is best? Perhaps you need a plumber quickly but don't have the details of anyone locally? Or maybe your computer is playing up and you simply don't have a clue what to do beyond "switch off and on again"? Throw the question out on social media, and you'll be surprised how many people will be only to happy to help.
Surveys and feedback: Because I've typically had so many areas of interest when it comes to blogging often I've needed to remind myself that it's the needs of my community that are paramount. Sending a survey out via a platform like SurveyMonkey can be extremely useful when trying to decide which direction you should be taking.
Market research: All too often we initiate ideas for product or service concepts because we think they'll sell but we've no evidence of what our market wants. Again, Twitter's search tool can give very useful insights into what your potential customers are looking for and the problems they're looking for solutions to. This is more akin to eavesdropping than proactive surveys, but it's equally effective.
Newsroom: If like me you don't always have time to catch the six o'clock news then make a point of following your favorite news station to ensure regular bulletins appear on your timeline. There's no longer any excuse to be 'out of the loop.'
Dating: Now it's a long while since I was looking for love, but one thing that always struck me about online dating sites is how unsubtle they can be. Getting to know someone together with all their likes, dislikes and various foibles is so much easier on social media if you're looking for a relationship that's not strictly professional! Of course, I should point out that not everyone using social networks is looking for a date, but then neither is everyone in a bar for that matter.
Social media and its benefits will continue to evolve the more we use it, and as networks and communities connect and grow, the potential power it gives us all will become more apparent. The uses I've listed here are just the tip of the iceberg.
So, venture out beyond the obvious and you may be surprised where it takes you.