Business Networking to a New Level
By Jean Kelley
For any business, effective networking is an essential
component to success. Today, though, the landscape of business
networking has changed dramatically. No longer does business
networking exclusively involve standing in a crowded room of people,
meeting and greeting with total strangers, and exchanging numerous
business cards. While such traditional networking is still valid and
effective, e-networking done via business 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 will likely look very different than they do
today, but ultimately they’ll still exist. And while purely “social”
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 the tried and true business networking sites
Why? Because your clients, customers, colleagues, and others
look to business networking sites for evidence of your character.
For example, when a prospect is thinking about doing business with
you, he or she will likely do a social media search for you. Never
before did average people have the ability to research anyone or any
company they wanted. While in the past background checks were
expensive and time-consuming, these days a few mouse clicks and
keystrokes can pull up a goldmine of information. That’s why you and
your company need to be on business networking sites…and you need to
be using the e-networking sites effectively.
The following suggestions will help you become a savvy
e-networker with a positive online presence.
Don’t be a contact
collector; be a contact cultivator:
The goal of any networking endeavor is to build
relationships, not just to collect business cards. E-networking is
no different. If you’ve been on any business networking sites,
you’ve likely 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
Rather than accepting and sending invitations to anyone, be
mindful of whom you connect with. When you do make a connection with
someone, look over his or her profile and then add a personal note
to the person where you indicate a shared interest, club,
affiliation, etc. For example, you could 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 in 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 build upon
that will make you stand out and open the lines for real
Have a clear
Many people think
they’re going to get business from being on social media sites.
While you can get business from your online activities, this
shouldn’t be your ultimate purpose. Rather, your purpose should be
to make people aware of who you are by sharing your expertise.
Any business networking site is a place for you to give, not
just to get. So to get business from your e-networking activities,
you have to contribute meaningful content. You can find many groups
to belong to that have strong conversations going. If you post
something in the discussion that’s smart and useful (good content),
then chances are someone will ask 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.
No matter what you post, if you get a reply, acknowledge the person
for their feedback or contribution. Just as you can’t take people
for granted in the brick and mortar 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 need to treat them as
When you’re replying to a question someone else poses, try to
answer in the early part of the conversation rather than after 100
others have already replied. You want your answer to be in that
first page of results. That way anyone who replies after you sees
your photo and business information every time. With that said, pay
close attention to what the question is and don’t answer anything
capriciously. Always remember that your reply is posted forever.
Add some personal
flair to your profile:
Even though this is business, it’s okay to put some personal flair to
your profile. After all, no one is all business all the time.
Chances are you have some interesting hobbies or other areas of your
life that people find intriguing. For example, maybe you collect
antique cars, breed prize-winning poodles, tend a vineyard in your
backyard, or have the city’s largest yo-yo collection. These are
interesting tidbits of yourself that you can weave into your profile
to make you appear more “real.”
Additionally, look at the tools and widgets the business
networking sites make available to you and use them. You can do such
things as post your reading list, link your blog, upload your
Twitter feed, and many others. People can get to know you by these
additional applications. Even better, they’re very user-friendly and
easy to integrate into your business networking persona.
A New Twist on an
We are currently in
the biggest social media experiment in the world. Those who embrace
business e-networking now are essentially the pioneers who will
shape how this tool gets implemented and how it evolves. As you move
forward, however, remember that your involvement with business
networking sites should be just one small aspect of your business
building efforts; it’s definitely not an end-all approach for
getting business. Essentially, when you use today’s business
e-networking tools effectively, you’ll have one more way to connect
with clients and prospects so you can build your business and boost
your bottom line.
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