Ask small business owners how they grow their business, and many will answer "word of mouth". Finding new customers through existing connections is a timeless way for trusted professionals and business owners to establish credibility and serve a local community. Yet while the world has gone online, word-of-mouth has not, leaving local professionals and business owners scratching their head for new ways to attract new customers.
The last 10 years of social networking has felt like an infinite loop of cat videos and friend requests to many small business owners, but the results can't be ignored - Facebook and LinkedIn have mapped the vast majority of our trusted, real-world relationships, both personal and professional. With more than 1 trillion connections mapped onto the web, business people can harness the wisdom and trust of our closest relationships to establish the credibility of word-of-mouth that was previously only available in the offline world.
For local professionals and businesses, this represents a transformational channel to find new customers and grow your bottom line.
Here are three reasons why your online network will grow your business:
Scale - The reach of your network is vast. Suppose you have 200 online connections. Your friends each have 200 connections. This means you are connected to 40,000 people through a shared mutual connection. For local professionals, that's 40,000 potential customers reachable via a personal referral. And these connections aren't 4th cousins once removed or the 6th degree of Kevin Bacon. These are people who share a mutual friend who can provide a personal introduction and endorsement.
Accessibility - Online networks can be referenced in real time with the click of a button. Just as Google can provide us with an answer to our information searches in the blink of an eye, online social networks can be discovered and put to work in real time. No longer will we need to wait for word-of-mouth to reach us via the town crier or pony express. Social networks give us the opportunity to find relationships and make connections instantly - referrals in real time.
Permanence - Word of mouth referrals are high impact in the moment, yet fleeting in their current form. Spoken referrals and verbal recommendations disappear as quickly as they're given. However, via personalized reviews and recommendations written on the web, high value referrals can be stored and made accessible for people at all times. No longer are we at the mercy of serendipity for a meaningful connection, but instead have access to a library of useful information through our trusted connections. Moreover, a recommendation is no longer restricted to a single conversation, but can be amplified to reach hundreds if not thousands of friends and colleagues. The information has permanence AND breadth.
Social networks have laid the groundwork for the next-generation of trusted commerce. While the social web has been slow to deliver on all of its commercial promise, we are approaching a new era of trust, authenticity, personalization and eventually, commerce. Prepare your online foundation of connections, trusted reviews and broad presence for the opportunity, or risk being left behind!