business & social media

It is easy to get overwhelmed by hundreds of various social networking sites that seem to be growing like mushrooms after rain, each one claiming to be the next big thing that human society won’t be able to live without. Some of them manage to get thousands and even millions of followers, sometimes addicts who indeed can’t see themselves surviving another day without the dose of their favourite cup of social java.

For some of us social media presented the ways to express ourselves, make friends, escape the troubles of the real world or simply feed our lifelong desire to learn. For others social media became the perfect tool in growing and conducting business. I’ve always been curious to find out how do they work that out and how they can be active on so many social networking sites, yet still flourish in business, where do they find time for such an active social life online in addition to their dynamic life offline? It’s not a secret that it’s the effective networking that brings to most businesses the success they never dreamed of achieving.

That is why I thought of interviewing Rastin Mehr, a successful entrepreneur, talented developer and an open source advocate. Sometimes it seems to me that no matter what networking event is happening in Vancouver, Rastin is there – either sponsoring it, or organizing or simply participating and building his ever expanding circle of contacts. He is an avid user of social media sites, and that’s what I wanted to learn more from him about. Besides running his own business, an Internet Technology Solutions company, he’s also a Development Work Group member in the Joomla project. Last year he partnered with Jen Duguay, the founder of Tazzu, to turn that forum into one of the most popular online business, technology, and knowledge networking communities in Vancouver.

V: Rastin, which of the social networking sites do you use on a regular basis?

R: Flickr, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tazzu.

V: How about Twitter, Digg, Reddit, del.icio.us, StumbleUpon ?

R: Oh, sure I use del.icio.us too, but not the social aspects of it. I have installed a Facebook application for del.icio.us, so when I add a bookmark it shows on my Facebook profile. I have registered with the StumbleUpon but haven’t had a chance to actively use it. I’ve opened an account on Twitter, but haven’t been using it yet. There are just so many of them, and so little time. I suppose that is becoming a problem pretty soon – so many social networks to keep track of.

Facebook

V: Do you use Facebook daily? Which other Facebook applications do you find the most useful and benefit from?

R: At least 3-4 times a day. I use Facebook apps that bring some actual value for me, in terms of communication or organizing events. To me that is the good part of Facebook in general, the utility aspects of it. I use Facebook groups, events, pages. I like Flog Blog, because when I update my blog it gets announced in my facebook news feed; photos, posted items, my LinkedIn Profile. One of my most favorite Facebook apps is the Flickr Photosets.

V: What if you receive a request from friends on your FB to activate another facebook app: to compare tastes, rate movies, become the best friend?

R: I just ignore them. I’ve noticed the best all those apps do is to slow down and clutter up my page.

V: How do you find which Facebook apps to use?

R: Sometimes I actively search for an application that I might need. I also check out my friends’ profiles and see what useful apps they are using. I have this intense desire to interlink all the social networks that I am involved with to each other.

V: I know you’ve attended the FacebookCamp in Vancouver, what was the most interesting thing about it?

R: The most valuable and interesting find was my current business associate and partner Ash Sanieyan from PeerGlobe. He was demoing his Facebook app (Class Talk). We met and talked afterwards, and since then have been working together 10 hours a day 6 days a week, mostly at the same desk.

V: I remember you once told me that all your clients use Facebook, otherwise they won’t be your clients, is it always the case?

R: Well not ALL of them use Facebook but most of them do. We develop custom CMS and Social Media, so it would make sense that our clients be familiar with those type of media beforehand to see the value in our services and products or else it would be a very cost and time intensive process to educate those who aren’t using social media technologies yet.

V: Did you have many people approaching you to do business with them via Facebook or do you have LinkedIn for that?

R: Sometimes yes, but they often use Facebook or LinkedIn to learn more about us or find out if they have any common friends with us. Those factors do count in creating more trust. Nobody wants to eat at a restaurant with an empty parking lot. I think Facebook or LinkedIn make really good replacements for CRM applications used by traditional companies.

V: How about you? Do you use Facebook or LinkedIn to get clients?

R: Yes we do use social media to do a background check on our clients. Clients that aren’t somehow in our network of friends are considered high risk, so we need to be more careful doing business with them. Having the right chemistry, a history, and common network of friends, all contribute to the success of a project or business deal.

V: That’s very interesting. Did you actually have a case of declining the work with a potential client who didn’t belong to your “circle of trust”?

R: We did actually pulled away from a few deals, because we didn’t have the right gut feeling about those clients. Not that they weren’t trustworthy, we just didn’t have enough history and common friends to get into projects like those together. In that case we prefer to break a project into smaller stages and create the opportunity to gradually build a history and trust between us.

LinkedIn

V: How are you using LinkedIn on a daily basis, besides updating your profile and checking on potential clients?

R: I use LinkedIn maybe once a day. The level of activity there isn’t as high as FB at least in my network of contacts: mainly to expand my existing network of contacts. And I must admit I kind of like LinkedIn’s Q&A – it is like sitting in the boardroom of traditional companies and eavesdropping on what the old school managers think about the current state of Interent industry. Traditionally having that kind of close encounter required knowing a friend, who knew a friend, who knew a friend within a corporation

V: You mentioned expanding your “existing network of contacts”… what are the different methods that you use in achieving that?

R: I go to networking events and make friends on other social networks such as Flickr or FB, and also add them on the LinkedIn. If I have a significant number of common friends with someone I don’t hesitate to send out an unsolicited request to join their network of contacts. Some of my contacts are people I know through my activities in the open source world. Bottom line: good LinkedIn contacts are the ones that I have some sort of history with. When I receive a new business inquiry the first thing I do I look up the sender in the LinkedIn and Facebook

V: Would you characterize LinkedIn as a more corporate way of doing business, while Facebook is a more casual one?

R: LinkedIn is (and was) modeled after the corporate structure, because it prohibits free user interactions by default – which is a paradox, and it is still kind of rigid. LinkedIn is partially doing the job in combination with Facebook. I think part of the success of LinkedIn was because of Facebook. They’ve even copied some of the FB features recently if you have noticed – mainly how they reorganized their User Interface, and added user avatars and User status update “what are you working on?”. But in general, I think the LinkedIn creators had more money than imagination.

Flickr

V: Ok, now it’s time for Flickr: how long you’ve been using it? Do you use it daily as well?

R: My most favorite of all social networks that is. I’ve been using it for 2 years I think. I use it every hour as a way to reduce my stress, or trigger my imagination.

V: So how do you use it, besides uploading photos, can you give me some examples, please?

R: Photography is my main hobby, and looking at other photographs is a way to reduce my daily stress. I use it for pleasure, for organizing and showcasing my photographs, and making lots of friends, and reading people’s comments. I’ve learned many new photographic techniques and concepts just by looking at other people’s works.

V: How do you go about deciding which photographers to check out?

R: I have a preference, I mainly do glamour, Jazz, street, architecture and interiors photography, and display some of my fashion drawings and illustrations on Flickr too. So people who inspire me in any of those fields become my contacts, and friends of those people often have the same taste as I do, so it becomes a recursive process. Every once in a while I decide to drop a contact, based on the quality of their work and activities, so my list of contacts gets constantly refined.
I also use Flickr as a marketing tool.

V: How do you use Flickr as a marketing tool?

R: First, I like the fact that I can upload and organize all my pictures in one place and then link to them from other websites ( blogs, forums, social networks ). For example when I update my Flickr account, my Facebook profile displays a news item letting all my contacts know that I’ve just uploaded new pictures on my Flickr account. A lot of my clients know me through my photography. It is amazing how many software development projects I have received in the past few years, because some clients found my photography interesting.

When we organize or sponsor events I usually take lots of photographs and upload them on Flickr and Facebook, so people could see us busy at work. I think it is important for developers, designers and architects to document their work at every stage using whatever medium they are comfortable with. It inspires other people, attracts potential partners and clients. It costs next to nothing, yet more effective than many traditional means of advertisement and marketing, not to mention that it is loads of fun and fuels my addiction to photography. I think services such as blogs, YouTube, or Flickr make the costly traditional marketing and advertisement methods obsolete.

V: Are there any social networking sites that you personally consider as a waste of time?

R: No, but I’m sure soon there will be technologies available for people to aggregate different services in one place. I’ve never signed up with MySpace, but I’m sure it has some value for some people. I have seen many copycat social networks. Many sales and marketing people are throwing money building empty shells of so called social networks, and hope to populate them with users using traditional marketing methods ( i.e. advertisement or promotions ), which I think is quite naive.

V: Yes, there are definitely many copycats, but there are some that raise the bar and create an interesting site.

R: It is an evolutionary process – many new social networking sites will be build and some will be successful, the rest will be wiped off by natural selection. As someone who offers social media services and development, I think the best way to learn the concept of a new online community is to join in and play along for a while.

V: What advice you would give to someone who’s just starting to get involved with social media?

R: Not to be afraid if they don’t know the rules of the game. Just play along in small steps, and learn from other people. The ability to interact with other people and make friends will soon be as important as any other social skill allowing to earn a living, make friends, or life partners. So it is worth investing some time into it.

V: Thank you so much, Rastin. Got lots of valuable tips from you.

R: Awesome, thank you very much. That was fun.


Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading this interview as much as I did. How do you use social media sites for growing your business? Please share with us your experience either via comments or by participating in our Social Media Mega Project. The deadline for that is this Saturday, March 22nd, so don’t miss it, please.

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8 Insightful Bits in response to “Social Media As A New Way Of Doing Business”

  1. Great interview.
    Sociall media is indeed a fine marketing tool. However, the traffic it brings to a website can be largely unfocused and decidedly hit and miss. However, as a way of building a website’s authority and brand recognition, it is invaluable tool. Thanks for the insights.

  2. I don’t see what all the fuss is about Facebook. Suddenly it’s the coolest SN site on the Web and using MySpace is totally out of fashion. However, I think MySpace is more user friendly and customizable. Apparently I’m the only one (?).

  3. Hi Nick (UK SEO). You’re welcome. Glad you found the interview useful. You’re right – social networks can bring high quality traffic or just a random, unfocused one. But with this interview I wanted to learn more about using social media as a promotion tool for our business.

    Hi Melissa. I myself don’t frequent Facebook as well, that’s why I wanted to see how Rastin is using it to his benefits. I never used MySpace – I went there once, didn’t like the interface and those few ugly looking myspace pages and never came back to it.
    However, I think that we shouldn’t rely too much on other people’s experience, it’s good to learn but we need to find what’s working for us. So if you find MySpace more user friendly and working better for you than Facebook, then that’s good – you found out how to adapt one of the social media sites for your needs.
    As for me, I’ll give Facebook another try, when I can find some more time for it ;-)

Pingbacks and Trackbacks

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on