They’re fun! They offer great opportunities to connect with old friends. They’re full of witty (and not so witty) memes, one-liners, and cartoons. They’re brimming with news items, photos of people’s children, political opinions, inspirational quotes, and more cute kitty pictures than you ever dreamed existed. Whether it’s a hashtag or a tagged picture, social media is an almost inescapable presence in our lives. For many of us, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can provide a great deal of enjoyment, with a little eye-rolling thrown in. If we’re smart, though, we can see the potential for more.
Networking, as many experienced entrepreneurs remember it, has grown. While nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting and the assurance of eye contact and a firm handshake, new trends have changed the face of how business gets done. Social networking is not meant to replace actual personal contact; it does, however enhance it. When you meet people at an event and invite them to connect with you and your company via Facebook or LinkedIn, new opportunities for social networking have begun. You are now able to learn more about these people and their companies by viewing their profiles. You are able to interact with them on these platforms. It’s just like when you make friends on Facebook, right?
Anyone who has ever spent time on a social media site has seen them. The Angry Guy. The Drama Queen. The Braggart. The Would-be Politician. The Font of Too Much Information, The Over-Friendly Friend. You’ve read their posts, and likely you’ve been left shaking your head. While we may be able to laugh them off on a social media site, imagine seeing some of this behavior from someone with whom you are networking. It might cause you to think twice about advancing your relationship. Another thing to keep in mind is that while you may be developing business connections on these social sites, at some point too much business is too much. Where are the social and business lines of demarcation drawn on these sites? Before venturing into the murky waters of social networking, consider the ways that you can make it work for you, rather than against you.
1) No pitching. Yes, these are business associations. No, this is not the place for selling, pitching, or spamming. Just like networking at an event, social networking is not about selling. It’s about developing relationships so that your business can develop.
2) Opine cautiously. Bear in mind that when making business connections and developing these relationships, you will most likely be dealing with people from diverse backgrounds or with different viewpoints. While you may have very firm political beliefs, think twice about forcing your opinions on other people on these platforms. You may feel like you’ve won your political battle, but if you alienate people with whom you may have otherwise developed positive business alliances, you end up losing the war.
3) Count the “I’s”. Unless you’re an opera singer, it shouldn’t be all about me-me-me-me-me-me! Certainly you can let others know what new things you are doing, just be careful of making it all about you. If you’re noticing that there is a preponderance of the word “I,” you may want to turn the attention away from yourself a bit.
4) Make it interesting. People enjoy learning new things. These platforms are a fine way to share useful information with others. As an expert in your field, you are in a position to offer things to people that are of value and that will likely be passed along, resulting in the development of new relationships. Beneficial information in the forms of things such as blogs, tips, or infographics will be shared with other people by your network of friends. Photos of your foot surgery…not so much. This leads us to the next point…
5) Make personal connections, but…know what is too personal. You have a golden opportunity to develop pleasant associations with people. As you connect with them, be approachable and engaging, but know what sort of topics are best left not discussed or posted. Also, be cognizant of the fact that not everyone likes to engage in extended conversations. Learn to gauge how often and how long certain individuals like to chat. That sort of sensitivity is appreciated.
6) Learn something. Don’t just be a “poster” or a “tweeter.” Take the opportunity to look around at these people with whom you’re connecting. Read their articles and conversations. These will provide you with not only valuable information, but also a chance to ask questions, start conversations, and learn more about the people in your network. Also, take note of the groups to which people in your network belong. You’ll learn where you probably should be spending more of your online time and find out with whom you should also be networking.
7) Follow up. That same rule from event networking applies here. When you make a social networking connection, follow up and suggest a meeting. Granted, not all meetings can be over coffee or lunch due to distance, but Skype or a phone call can suffice when in-person meetings are impossible.
Remember, while your ultimate goal in networking is the growth of your business, you are not there, in person or online, to make a business pitch. Your connections know that you have a business. They most likely know exactly what it is or does. What they need to know is more about you. Are you reliable? What do you know? How readily will you share what you know? Like any relationship, this requires time and effort. As the relationships solidify and the trust builds, members of your network will be comfortable in sending referrals or assisting you in other ways, as you also will for them. Successful networking is a vital ingredient in the growth of your business and the harvesting of its fruits.
This post is from Bola Olonisakin, Creative Head & Online Strategist at GTechDesigns LLC. Bola specializes in web design and development techniques, standards and methodology. She works to enable organizations to grow their web strategy and increase the visibility of their websites. If you’re interested in improving your web presence, feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or @gtechdesigns on Twitter. This post was originally posted at www.gtechdesigns.com.