For any business, effective networking is an essential component for success. Today, however, the landscape of enterprise networks has changed dramatically. Business networking is no longer just about standing in a crowded room, meeting and greeting complete strangers, and exchanging numerous business cards. While these traditional networks are still valid and effective, the electronic networking done through commercial social networking sites is just as valuable.
Regardless of what anyone thinks about social networking sites, the fact is that they are here to stay. Sure, they’ll evolve over the years and probably look very different than they do today, but ultimately they’ll still be around. And while purely “social” networking sites can have a business aspect to them, it’s important for business owners, executives, and managers to have a strong presence on tried-and-true business networking sites (example: LinkedIn).
Because? Because your clients, colleagues, and others look to business networking sites for evidence of your character. For example, when a prospect is thinking of doing business with you, they are likely to do a social media search for you. Never before have average people had the ability to investigate any person or company they want. While background checks were costly and time consuming in the past, today a few mouse clicks and keystrokes can yield a gold mine of information. That’s why you and your business need to be on business networking sites…and you need to use networking sites effectively.
The following suggestions will help you become an electronic networking expert with a positive online presence.
• Don’t be a contact collector; be a contact grower.
The goal of any networking effort is to build relationships, not just collect business cards. Electronic networks are no different. If you’ve been to any business networking site, chances are you’ve seen people with 500+ connections. At first you may think: “Wow, that person sure knows a lot of people.” But does he or she really know those connections? Or is this person just collecting contacts?
Instead of accepting and sending invites to just anyone, be aware of who you’re connecting with. When you connect with someone, review their profile and then add a personal note to the person indicating a shared interest, club, affiliation, etc. For example, you might respond to someone by writing, “I see you attended Northwestern University (or are a member of the Miami Business Association, or have a pet beagle…). I have a similar interest that I (also attended Northwestern…am a member of the Tulsa Business Association…have a dog named Snoopy…etc.)” You get the idea. Find a shared interest to develop that will make you stand out and open the lines for real communication later on.
• Have a clear purpose.
Many people think that they are going to get business by being on social networking sites. While you can get business from your online activities, this should not be your ultimate purpose. Rather, your purpose should be to make people realize who you are by sharing your experience.
Any business networking site is a place for giving, not just receiving. So, to get business from your networking activities, you need to contribute meaningful content. You can find many groups to belong to that have strong conversations. If you post something in the discussion that is smart and useful (good content), then chances are someone will ask you to connect with you. Now you have more people to share your message with.
Other examples of good content are asking thought-provoking questions, posting a motivational quote, and sharing a business tip. Regardless of what you post, if you get a response, give the person credit for their comment or contribution. Just as you can’t take people for granted in the physical world, you can’t take them for granted in the virtual world either. Everyone who reacts to your content is a potential relationship and you should treat them as such.
When responding to a question someone else asks, try to respond early in the conversation rather than after 100 other people have already responded. You want your answer to be on that first page of results. That way, anyone who answers after seeing your photo and business information every time. That being said, pay close attention to what the question is and don’t answer anything capriciously. Always remember that your answer is posted forever.
• Add a personal touch to your profile.
Even though this is business, it’s okay to put a personal touch on your profile. After all, no one is all business all the time. Chances are, you have interesting hobbies or other areas of your life that people find intriguing. For example, maybe you collect vintage cars, breed award-winning poodles, tend a vineyard in your backyard, or have the largest collection of yo-yos in town. These are interesting facts about yourself that you can weave into your profile to make yourself appear more “real.”
Also, look at the tools and widgets that business networking sites make available to you and use them. You can do things like post your reading list, link to your blog, upload your Twitter feed, and many more. People can get to know you through these additional applications. Even better, they’re super easy to use and easy to integrate into your business networking persona.
A new twist on an old tool
We are currently in the world’s largest social media experiment. Those who adopt electronic business networks are now essentially the pioneers who will shape how this tool is implemented and how it evolves. However, as you go along, remember that your involvement with business networking sites should only be one small aspect of your business building efforts; it is definitely not a final approach to doing business. Essentially, when you use today’s online business networking tools effectively, you’ll have one more way to connect with current and potential customers so you can build your business and increase your bottom line.