Trust me, social networking didn't start in the business world. Just ask your kids. Resentment still runs high that adults are now running amuck on, among others, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. The advent of mobile internet technology, along with such wonder-toys like the Apple iPhone, have created the ability to share a dialog of your daily activities with the world.

As a recent convert to this craziness, I first thought of social networking as a fun way to entertain and be entertained. And then I became the big cheese on something called HVAC-Talk.com — a social networking discussion forum specifically for the mechanical systems industry.

And everything changed.

This site is THE place where the industry meets online. There's great technical mind-sharing, plenty of gossip, and daily conversations on everything from the latest products sweeping the market, to the impact of President Obama's stimulus package on the HVAC contractor and distributor. It's a souces of news, fun, education, and serious issue discussion.

Couple this with the popularity of public social network sites like Facebook and Twitter, and consumers, and businesses are both waking up to a new way of marketing.

Think of it this way — this phenomenon helped elect the current U.S. president. His campaign used email, the Internet, and other electronic media to build an unstoppable grass roots ground swell that helped to land the first African-American president into office.

Just recently, President Obama used a social media online resource to “interview” the American people to find out what they had on their minds. In this process, more than 13,000 questions were submitted and 400,000 votes cast to help filter the most pressing issues to the top of the list. Through this system, Obama used the will of the crowd to:

  • Shape topics of discussion for when he addresses the nation

  • Demonstrate that the oval office acknowledges people's importance in driving the country's success

  • Illustrate the accessibility of a modern U.S. government.

Yes, the government is big. Very big. Some would say it's the biggest business in the world. They would also say the Internet levels the playing field between businesses of all sizes. So should a contracting firm be able to have THAT kind of access to THEIR customers?

Absolutely!

Especially today — a good relationship with customers is vital and any tool that brings a company and its customers into contact has the possibility of improving — and lengthening — that relationship.

Learn more about how social networking benefits your company. A good online source of information is Junta42 (junta42.com). Some of the information for this column came from there. Articles on that site can teach you how to use Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, Plaxo, and many other tools to expand the reach and message of your business and your brand.

From an industry-specific standpoint, visit HVAC-talk.com and see how it can benefit your business every day. Network online with fellow contractors, learn from them, and use that information to build your company.

Social Networking — it's not just for the kids anymore.

Sixty Five Years Young. In the 1980s, the U.S. HVAC industry found itself in an unequalled construction boom, particularly in office buildings, hotel/motels, and shopping center development. Entire cities seemed to spring up overnight. We had a movie star president, the service industry was changing, and the need for contractors to become better business professionals was apparent. To focus more on these changes, The Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Business evolved its name to Contracting Business. This story of our fourth decade is on ContractingBusiness.com in the resources section.