Let me preface this discussion by saying that I've been involved in online social networks since the 1980s, when they were dial-up bulletin-board services. I've spent more informal time on them than most people, and I've made them part of my profession for well over a decade. Because of this, I get asked one question quite a lot: What's the best social network?
The truth is that the best social network is the one that benefits you the most.
What is beneficial may differ, depending on your business. If you're a home-improvement company, you might get more out of Pinterest. If you're a musician, you'll love Soundcloud. Google+ is loaded with photographers.
But none of those networks are the sexiest. Instead, your e-mail inbox is the most powerful and alluring network that exists.
When someone chooses to read your e-mail and responds or forwards that e-mail, it's a much deeper interaction than hitting a Plus icon or a Like button and moving on to the next consumable.
If I've earned a spot in your inbox, I've got your most intimate social network near at hand. You can introduce me to people who matter to you. You can forward my message or idea to someone else. The interaction stays with you.
Smaller Is Sexy
There's a reason that smaller is sexy. While Facebook is nearing its 1 billionth customer, another network called Path that imposes limits is getting some attention. Path limits you to 50 friends. It's a very small, very intimate social network. You can do a lot of the same things that you can on Facebook: Post location, photos, text, and so on. But only be 50 people can see what you post.
As a small-business owner, if I can focus my attention on a very small group of people (or maybe two small groups—my would-be buyers and my sources of new ideas), I won't be so overloaded with what could be. I can decide who matters and dedicate my efforts to them.
Huge social networks generate fantasies of huge potential: I could reach millions of prospective buyers. But check out some smaller networks and see if you can serve them more fully. You might find that you'll do better.
Small Is Not Local
When I praise small networks, I don't mean location-specific networks. Geographic diversity is very important if it's at all possible in your business. If your customer base is limited to your region and it's impacted by an economic or weather issue, you'll be low on buyers. If you can sell to more than one locale, you have a better chance of diversifying your streams of revenue.
More paths help sustain your business. If you can sell somewhere other than only local, give it a go.
What Works for You
Sometimes targeting a smaller network serves your business better than trying to reach infinite numbers of customers. Evaluate what you put your energy into to decide what will best serve your business. Don't be distracted by the potential of reaching the masses when your own closest network—your e-mail contacts—may be the one that will benefit you the most.
What are you doing with small or not-so-small networks? Which network matters most to you now?
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