Years ago I attended a management seminar where we discussed how technology impacts the workplace. When telephones were first introduced, for example, managers were skeptical about giving office workers their own phones out of the fear that they’d waste time just talking to friends. Today it is almost inconceivable that a productive office worker could operate without a phone.

In recent years the same concerns arose about access to the Internet, and today we see it with social networking. According to an April 2009 study by Social Media Today, one in four companies has someone assigned to monitor social media in order to track what others are saying about their brand, their industry or their product. This has a clear message for the rest of us: we’d better get comfortable with this technology, because that is where our future customers are.

Take Facebook. What used to be a playground and meeting place for college students has now gone mainstream. According to Facebook’s own statistics, the site has more than 200 million users, with more than 100 million logging in each day. Users between the ages of 35 and 54 constitute its fastest growing demographic. While about 70 percent of Facebook users are from outside the United States, forward-looking businesses need to establish a presence there and begin cultivating friends.

Go to Facebook (, do a search on “restoration” and you’ll find more than 500 hits ranging from spas to religious groups and restoration firms with restoration in their group name. Then do a search on “remodeling” and you’ll find 500-plus listings for remodeling companies that are classified as groups. Setting up your company as a group under your individual Facebook page is the first step in establishing a presence in this burgeoning online society.

But just “being there” is not making use of Facebook’s potential. This and other social networking sites offer a treasure trove of information about possible clients. Facebook makes it easy for you to connect with those who are already in your email address book with an application that scans your Outlook addresses for others who are already have a Facebook page. Once you identify those people, you can send them a “friend” request, which they will most likely accept. When you are classified as friends, you have access to each other’s pages and a great deal of shared information about interests, background and current activities.

When I make sales calls, I look for details about a person that would help me develop a closer relationship. I notice pictures on the desk, plaques on the wall and any other gadgets that let me know the person better. With social media, one can get significant insight into a person’s life and habits without making the physical visit to the office or home.

Sales and marketing is about developing relationships. Social media is designed to help people develop relationships. Although it would be a cultural blunder to actively solicit business on a social media site, the information such sites yield is immensely valuable as background for sales calls.

I will be speaking on social media and other aspects of marketing at the National Institute of Restoration workshop in Charlotte, N.C., Aug. 18-19. In the meantime, if you’re not on the social media bandwagon yet, now is the time to jump on. And Facebook is a good place to start.