Shawn Mullen has his LinkedIn app running while on the road. “When I see a place that I’ve not called on before, I can park, LinkIn for a contact name, Google the contact on the Droid for a phone number, and then touch the link to call from the Jeep without need of my laptop or finding a Wi-Fi connection,” says Mullen, who is with Protex Central.

Adds Richard Haig Jr., “I use LinkedIn and Twitter extensively. In fact, I keep them running on my desktop at all times alongside my e-mail inbox and interoffice messaging program.” Haig, president and chief executive officer at Haig Service Corporation / CHQ in Green Brook, N.J., goes against the grain when he suggests that, while some use social networking sites (SNS) to keep in touch with a small group of “friends,” it is even “more valuable for affording the ability to entrepreneurs and leaders in our industry to poke their heads up out of this painfully tightly closed industry box.”

Welcome to the third leg of today’s technology revolution stool, according to Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, a “fact tank” that studies the social impact of the Internet. In a preview of a presentation to be given later this winter, he points out how normal life has changed in the past decade because of three tech revolutions: 1) the spread of broadband; 2) the rise of mobile connectivity; and 3) the emergence of technological social networks.

Integrators, already familiar with IP infrastructure for security systems and mobile connectivity as clients clamber for alarm and video remote viewing on their smartphones, may know social networks more from that Facebook movie, Twitter jokes in 140 characters or less, and high school reunion organizing through LinkedIn. Or suspect that those conspiracy blogs comes from nerds in their parents’ basements.

Think again.

Integrators, their staff members, clients, professional associations, and vendors growingly see business value in use of such social networking sites; some follow industry blogs or write their own.

It should not come as a surprise that social networking sites are — in essence — business builders. Even in the BC days, that is before computers, this was always a relationship business. Salespeople know how to work their black books to make sales; and rolodexes can be a businessperson’s best asset. These websites just take that online — and beyond.

Hop on the Bosch Security Systems Blog for insights into their technology and applications as well as interactive surveys on topics such as security video. Information gets more personal on the Premier Security Blog, where you can get valuable observations from staffers including the service manager. Honeywell recently debuted The Security Channel™ Blog, with relevant blogs for integrators in the security channel about technologies, security projects, and consumer behavior, among other topics.

Throw a video about one of your client installations up onto your company blog or link it through Facebook or Twitter, or post it on YouTube. Or consider offering a live Web-based chat with a company representative.

All it takes is time — sometimes lots of time — and money — sometimes considerable amounts — and anything is possible through social networking sites. For most integrators and their partners, however, the bread-and-butter SNSs are LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

“I’m definitely LinkedIn. Plus I blog, too. Since we’re mostly business-to-business, we’ve not seen much traction with Facebook,” observes Mullen. What I find from these [SNS] groups in my particular nonresidential areas of interest (fire, security, mass notification) are a couple of things:

  • Genuine professionals who offer good, experience-based, observations.
  • Companies which trumpet every possible event, new product, new employee, etc.
  • Individuals who believe that they must respond to every post whether it makes sense or not.

“My take on the above types of individuals are that they’re simply trying to better their search engine optimization (SEO) by getting their name on the site.” Mullen also sees involvement from persons “who know enough to be dangerous and are wanting ratification of their approach or solution.”

The executive from Protex Central, which covers mid-America from Hastings, Omaha, and Des Moines offices, says that, after about 12 months, “I have yet to gain a customer or a lead from my LinkedIn activity or my blog.”

But “I’ll continue to participate and be engaged.  It is simply the way of the business world right now and I believe I can set a marker for me and my company. One other aspect to my LinkedIn activity: I’ve intentionally grown my network so that I now have a whopping 21 million potential users I can gain through an introduction.

“Big deal, right?

“Well, yes,” he says. “It is when you consider that I now have the ability to find a name/contact in almost every company I may want to get introduced to. I never make a cold call now. I can Google a name of a person at XZY company who is three degrees away from me on LinkedIn, get a phone number, and ask the LinkedIn user for assistance in guiding me to Mr. Right within the company for fire/security/mass notification systems. In fact, just did this last week and set an appointment right after the first of the year with a company here in Iowa from the comfy confines of my office.”

While Mullen has devised a nifty way to squeeze value out of millions of folks on one SNS, some integrators are bothered by getting too far a field with “friends” outside the scope of their business or smothered by Tweets too often related to lunch experiences rather than security video design help.

Still, Haig is a believer in the ability of SNSs, beyond the obvious and obnoxious, to break through the boxes in which too many security executives may work.

“I would argue that, while this form of media is great for creating and communicating with an industry specific circle,” the social networking sites can enlighten and encourage beyond traditional industry thinking. “Only by doing so can we be enlightened to things in business, management, leadership, and investment communities that are so profoundly impacting or could be utilized to impact our businesses.”

Those who “I’ve been able to connect and interact with on LinkedIn and Twitter are such that I would never been able to do so otherwise. The speed with which the ‘circle’ can be recruited and amasses is, I’m guessing, unrivaled as well,” adds Haig.

In addition, SNSs can provide internal benefits. Haig requires his managers to set up and regularly interact (“Preferably always running on their desktop as I do.”) with a LinkedIn account.

“I follow and commend [staff] based on the number and relevance of the connections they make. We also post links to and comments about articles, books, stories, and experiences for all to share. I’ve found this to be a tremendous ‘high touch’ coaching and leadership tool.  Much better than closed internal e-mails as it recruits the outside interactions and comments of our outside circle,” adds Haig.


More on social networking: 

Social Networking by the Numbers

Seven Basics for a Social Networking Strategy