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Retool for tomorrow with technology

Steve Ahrens
Dolan Media Newswires

Boise, Idaho — The face of our future is a teenager – thumbs flying across the tiny keyboard of his cell phone, sending text messages to friends while at the same time carrying on a conversation.

Today’s teens — future businessmen and women — are growing up with social networking as a routine part of their lives. Networking, for them, will be equal parts social and business. To do business with this next generation of customers, you’ll need to meet them on their ground.

Jessica Flynn, owner-operator of Red Sky Public Relations, Boise, gets it.

“With social networking, a conversation between two or three people can go worldwide in seconds,” she said. “It crosses demographics, age groups and technology-savvy industries. It expands your reach and influence in ways not possible before.”

Business implications? Facing car problems, Flynn tweeted friends to find a reliable mechanic.

“Within 15 minutes I had 25 responses from my peers and people in my sphere of influence,” she said.
She selected one shop to fix her car, so her social network translated into business for that mechanic.

Twitter, she said, “is changing our world, 140 characters at a time. News is spread at the speed of thumbs. … If a business is not involved (in networking), someone who is involved is going to eat their lunch.”

Caution: Integrating social networks into business marketing strategies still is a developing process, said Kathy Baughman, principal at ComBlu, a Chicago company specializing in community-based marketing.

“Companies are trying to figure out how to integrate social networking into their marketing mix, what expectations they can have for business results,” Baughman said. “Social networking has to relate to other things the organization is doing, otherwise you’ve got a bunch of dueling initiatives, and you’re just confusing your market.”

Added perspective on the new social networking phenomenon comes from Alicia Ritter, president of Ritter Consulting Inc., Boise.

“I think ‘newness’ sometimes gives things a disproportionate sense of importance,” she said. “The basis of any business communication question should still be, ‘What are we trying to accomplish? And how can social media, or other communication tactics, push us closer toward our desired end result?’

“I see this as but one tool in the toolbox. I think time will tell if it’s a sledge hammer or a screwdriver.”

Considering the warp speed at which the networking concept is blurring the lines of connection between social and business, I come down on the “sledge hammer” side in imagining the ultimate business potential of this technology.

Steve Ahrens is the retired president of the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry and former political editor of The Idaho Statesman.

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