For those not currently using social media, a few thoughts from someone in the web industry who has only just embraced it.
Consider how much time you spend going to networking functions. Apart from the free drinks, how many good leads do you actually get? How much time do you spend finding a car park and driving there? How many people do you get a chance to talk to? Lets now compare social media, where you might get to relay your message and brand to more people. A history of what was said is maintained so that other people can catch up on the conversation without listening over your shoulder. The discussion could be ongoing 24/7 without your presence.
With either method of networking, you will likely want to cement the relationship with a one on one face to face meeting or phone call.
The trick with social media and networking functions is too spend your time wisely. You need to research and find the groups (like industry group functions) where your desirable customers might spend their time. Typically this is some kind of active forums or blogs with active commenter's.
For any on line business, social media should not be ignored. You have already qualified your customers as "on line and savvy". You are not hoping for that big leap for someone to go home and boot up their computer and interact with you. On line users are only a click away from your website and your buy button. Social media also lets you interact with like minded people throughout the world or country, where travel is prohibitively expensive for the value of general networking events.
Email marketing can become very formal, with either monthly newsletters or auto responders being just too easy to ignore. Social media has a public running commentary where new users can catch up quickly to the current trends.
Unlike email marketing which is a very one way communication, with social media, users can interact publicly. Positive testimonials are commonplace. Questions and answers within public conversations enable new users can catch up on the discussion. Even negative press can be addressed with a real desire to resolve issues and work to improve your brand.
Email marketing is definitely a must have, and should never be replaced by social media, but we should use social media to at least publicise our newsletters more widely, and let readers engage with the topics brought up in our newsletter.
Even if you are not using social media, a lot of people are. What is everyone saying about your brand? Have you searched for your company name or products on Twitter? How much negative press is out there? A smart business will be listening on all channels regularly and posting brand friendly replies, both publicly to others listening, and personally to the initial poster.
Listening in on the dissent that potential customers have about your competitors, might be an opportunity for a direct sale.
Following trends in twitter and moving around the connections in face book and linked in, can also help you identify new people you could do business with. Look for complimentary businesses and listen to what their customers are saying. Join in on the conversation in a meaningful way, don't just tout your own message. Others will notice you and quite likely will have a quick peak at your profile, perhaps even connect with or follow you.
Just dedicate 15 minutes of your week to social media. It might be a bit overwhelming at first, but eventually you will find you can quickly glance over the news feeds, post your own update, and continue on your way within a few minutes during each day. As you engage more with the right connections, and see how many views your postings are getting, then you might decide to dedicate more time to that, and less time to traditional networking functions (which take a minimum of 2 hours door to door per event)
Social media will waste your time if you create a new profile, group, page and start posting drivel to no one listening. If you start with quality posts so that future followers will understand what you're about, then spend your time using the social media tools as a way to engage with new people, potential partners, suppliers, customers, journalists, etc.
Make sure you engage with new people in a meaningful way, the same way you would in a traditional networking function. Listen to what the other person is saying and see how you can engage. The one thing with new entrants to email and the web, is that they feel it is easy to be impersonal. Emails can more quickly become sales focused or terse, depending on the context. When face to face, conversations are normally more friendly. This is how social media interaction should be.
Twitter is a great place to start, I would suggest you go to the www.twitter.com website and start searching some key words to see what discussions are taking place. If you see an opportunity to engage with your own posts or direct messages, then open an account. Make sure you post at least one message a month, preferably weekly, daily or even more often as you become more comfortable with it. A simple one liner about a recent article you wrote with a link to it is a good idea. Using topical trend tags will help more people discover you.
www.Facebook.com and www.LinkedIn.com are great places to make connections. You can search by name, then introduce yourself. If the other person is happy to connect, they will accept. Conversations can then progress from there, and either which way, you can navigate their connections/groups/links to find other people/areas of interest. Locating forums, groups and discussion threads are a great way to network with completely new people based on a topic.
Several other networks like www.slideshare.com are great for networking with other seminar presenters, www.myspace.com with musicians, www.bebo.com with the kids, www.youtube.com with all sorts of topics with a moving image perspective. All of these sites enable comments to be placed on posts, with links to the authors so that you can navigate around easily.
And don't forget to tell people where you are spending your time... Your website should tie all these networks together, with plenty of links in each direction.
Posted: Tuesday 15 June 2010