I’ve recently finished a book on social media (available for pre-order from Amazon, thanks for asking) and one of the things I’ve come across quite a bit is that people think they ought to ‘do’ social media without thinking about which media is right for their business.

There are a number of interesting sides to this. First, the idea of putting social media into a business plan becomes completely alien to a number of people. Second, if you’re not already in the field then thinking about which network(s) to use becomes a bit daunting. Take MySpace – that’s aimed mostly at young people, right? Well, right, that’s true. But also have a look at Microsoft Office Live’s page on YouTube – that’s a professional page aimed at serious, older people.

There’s more. A short while ago I was walking the dog in the park and overheard two elderly ladies having a laugh about their sons, in their forties, going onto Facebook. That’s something for teenagers, they were saying, - but of course it’s not. Microsoft wouldn’t have its own Office Live Facebook Page if it thought so, and that’s a company that throws serious money at sanity checking its marketing, as well as hosting its own communities.

So, does all this mean that older people don’t understand social networking? Well, not quite. The older people in the park certainly didn’t, but then I explained to my mother in law that I was writing a social networking book. I started to explain the concept to her, began on what Facebook actually was – and she turned around immediately and launched a critique on my own Facebook page. I wasn’t using it enough, there weren’t enough pics…I’ll grant you she’d misunderstood my own business use of the thing as distinct from her personal/consumer requirement, but it taught me a thing or two about underestimating people based on prejudices I didn’t know I had (it also told me that my mother in law might be viewing my Facebook updates so I’d better watch it).

No, the overall lesson and message has to be a very simple one. If you’re a passer-by in the park by all means jump to a wrong conclusion, it’s never going to harm you. If you want to benefit your business using social media, though, look at the networks that are available and consider them for what they are – but do the research so you know what they are and who’s on them, not who you previously thought was on them.

This is a guest-post from Guy Clapperton, a freelance journalist who has specialised in the small business arena for over a decade.

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