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Social networking sites make transition to business.

The recent boom in “social networking sites,” those Internet destinations that allow users to chat, share photos and virtually hang out with a group of other users, was bound to be useful for the material handling industry at some point. Web sites like MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Bebo and others are among the most visited sites on the World Wide Web and can be valuable resources for the material handling industry.

The LinkedIn philosophy is “Relationships matter.”

Recently, a Web site called LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) has taken the social networking formula and applied it to business. Headquartered in Mountain View, California, LinkedIn Corporation was founded in 2003 and is funded by Greylock and Sequoia Capital, the venture capitalists behind Google, Yahoo!, Cisco and Apple, among others. LinkedIn’s philosophy simply says, “Relationships matter.” According to the company’s Web site, “LinkedIn is an online network of more than 20 million experienced professionals from around the world, representing 150 industries.” LinkedIn users can post professional information about themselves, search for other users with similar backgrounds, make and receive recommendations from other users and remain in contact with friends and associates.

The number of LinkedIn users has more than tripled to 23 million so far in 2008, according to The New York Times. The average age of those users is 41 years old.

MHEDA members are starting to reap the benefits. Just a few clicks revealed more than 20 MHEDA members with accounts, a number which is likely larger and growing. David Griffith, president/CEO of Modern Group (Bristol, PA), is a big advocate of LinkedIn. “It’s a professional network,” Griffith explains. “Adult Facebook,

Social Networking Sites

LinkedIn is only one example of a social networking site.

Sites for Business Use Sites for Non-Business Use
Plaxo
Ryze
Spoke

MySpace
Facebook
Bebo
Friendster

without the posting of pictures and blogs and all the extras, is the best way I can describe it. I don’t really see a downside to it.”

Griffith recalls more than one instance he has teamed up with MHEDA Director and LinkedIn user Ken Shaw III, president of Fred Hill and Son Company (Philadelphia, PA), to make business contacts. Shaw noticed one of Griffith’s contacts was the CEO of a company Fred Hill and Son had done some business with at the lower levels of the organization. Shaw asked Griffith to introduce him to the CEO, who readily accepted a meeting. “We ended up going to lunch and having a good conversation about business in general,” Shaw says. “Even though we’re not talking on a daily basis, it is important for me to connect with that C-level executive. Maybe it will give me an advantage later if we end up in the running for a project.”

That’s just one of many examples Griffith cites as a clear business use for sites such as LinkedIn. “I introduced Ken to someone, and the favor since has been returned. We’ve connected on several leads from people I’ve met previously who probably didn’t know what my business was.”

Networking Sites Have Their Drawbacks

According to a recent article in Inc., employers are increasingly taking the step to ban the use of another popular networking site, Facebook, a social site initially limited to use by high school and college students. Shortly after opening to the general public in September 2006, Facebook traffic swelled by more than 80 percent, more than two-thirds of which was attributed to users outside the site’s traditional demographic.

Facebook now draws more than 30 million unique monthly visitors, for up to 60 minutes at a time. A survey of over 700 British office workers discovered that an average employee spends at least 30 minutes per day, some as many as three hours, on Facebook. In addition to lost work time, Facebook use strains small business bandwidth consumption, creates potential security risks and adds IT costs.

Roughly half of U.S. employers block or restrict on-the-job access to Facebook. “While some employers consider the site a procrastinator’s paradise,” the article says, “others see it as a valuable networking tool that connects sales reps, marketers and other employees.” If this conundrum has not yet arrived in your office, it may be coming soon.

In addition to the business aspect, the site also has a social component allowing users to reconnect with old classmates and associates. Toolbars are available for download that give users the ability to download contact information from Outlook or similar address books. Other features include LinkedIn Answers, where users can post business and etiquette questions for other users to answer, and LinkedIn Updates, which lists the most recent changes to user profiles throughout the entire network. A new feature called Company Groups joins employees from the same company in a Web forum.

The myriad uses make sites like LinkedIn valuable business tools. Shaw looks at it thusly: “You never know who knows whom, who went to school with whom or what types of connections you can have. Referral through a friend is one of the most effective ways to get an audience with someone to try to further the relationship between your organizations.”

While Shaw thinks the site’s social aspect has a place, he looks at it more as a business opportunity. “To me, it’s more like an investment in a bank that I can tap into down the road to be able to get an opportunity that we might not have without those connections.”

Griffith concurs. “When you put people together, it’s amazing who you know who knows somebody else. In the material handling business, that’s the way business gets done,” he says. “You never know when it will come back around.”

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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