From finding jobs to sealing deals, The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online explains blogs, social networking sites and other online tools for building relationships. Authors Scott Allen, a strategic marketing consultant and former information technology executive, and David Teten, a serial entrepreneur and currently CEO of Nitron Advisors, offer advice on building a virtual presence, relating in real time, online etiquette, privacy and managing email. We spoke to them about the emerging world of social software.
Monster: How has social software changed the networking landscape for business professionals?
Scott Allen: It's an overused buzzword, but in this case, it truly is a paradigm shift. You have the ability to find and identify a cluster of several hundred or several thousand people who are gathered around and engaged in a topic.
M: What does that mean for business professionals?
SA: You can participate and develop a reputation by participating. It's just more wide open for anyone to build professional credibility with freely available tools and at a minimal cost.
M: What do you say to people who hear the term social software and think it's only for techies?
David Teten: I think it's a gross misapprehension -- 84 percent of Americans participate in online groups. Particularly for the next generation, it is normative to spend hours per day communicating with your friends via blogs, instant messaging and so on. And those are the folks who are the future leaders of corporate America. It's rapidly becoming mainstream. And when you're communicating online, you have to learn the local culture. Everyone is doing this haphazardly, and we're trying to create a systematic way to learn about these technologies.
M: So everyone from nurses to customer service workers could benefit from this?
SA: There is real business being done in all kinds of industries. It's not just the technology and Internet marketing people. Those people are doing well, because they're the early adopters. The people who are the early adopters in other industries -- who get in and start establishing reputations -- are the people who will reap the most benefits.
M: Your book views blogs as powerful tools. Should everyone be blogging?
SA: A blog may become as important, if not more important, than your resume. The resume may get you onto the long list, but the blog is definitely a tool to get onto the short list. If you're trying to position yourself as an expert, then you should be blogging about your topic and building relationships with other people in your industry who are thinking about and talking about the same topic. And when I say you want to position yourself as an expert, I'm not talking about being a professional info-guru. If your business value is centered around your expertise on a particular topic, then you should be writing about it.
M: Your book discusses the idea of being able to "connect 'up' virtually." Could you explain that?
DT: In general, you want to build relationships with people who are a notch above you. Blogs are a great way to get access to people. Let's say you want to get to Dan Burstein, who's a venture capitalist in New York. You go to your blog and write something about his new book, Blog! [Allen and Teten are contributors.] I guarantee you Dan Burstein has a PubSub or some other subscription set up, and so he knows what people say about him. If you write a review of his book or comment on a recent venture capital investment he made, he will instantly see that, and he is likely to respond to you.
M: What about those who lament the loss of face-to-face contact?
SA: We have glorified face-to-face communication so much, and the fact of the matter is that it's just that we're more familiar and comfortable with it. It's not inherently superior to virtual communication. The biggest mistake people make is trying to communicate virtually like we do face-to-face, rather than learning to take advantage of the differences.
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