Online marketing and social media tips for business from Shannon Belew, best-selling author of "Starting an Online Business For Dummies, All-in-One"
When was the last time you formed a meaningful business relationship, online? According to recent research from PEW Internet, 80 percent of American adults (surveyed) use the Internet. On a typical day, 59% said they use a search engine to find information; and, 48 percent are using a social networking site like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+. While the survey didn’t specifically use the term “networking online,’ one might assume that it is at least one of the reasons for being online, specifically when using social media. Yet, the art of networking online, whether via social media networks or forums and blogs, is still an activity that many are trying to master – and quantify. Even if you can’t quantify it the same as other metrics, there are at least five reasons that make online networking worth the investment of your time and effort.
– Discover new industry trends or services/solutions: There is no shortage of supply online when it comes to finding subject matter experts, industry analysts, consultants, journalists, craftsmen, and other talented professionals. Regardless of your industry, there is most likely someone else who knows your business. Connecting online and building professional relationships with these people allows you to tap into their expertise. This is a terrific way to keep up with news, trends or other helpful stats that you might not otherwise have access to. Keep in mind, sharing is not a one-way street. You want to be able to contribute to the conversation, as well. Not to mention, most people want to build their own business and sell their services/products, so be respectful of their time – if you keep tapping them for information, without returning the favor, there will come a time when they ask you to pay for their expertise.
– Build reputation as an expert in your field: Just as you might seek input from others online, participating in social networking sites and business (or industry-specific) communities and forums provides the opportunity to develop your credibility as an expert. By answering questions, posting articles, and generally being helpful and interesting, you’ll find that others will keep coming back to see what you have to say and to ask for your opinion or feedback on specific topics. Whether you are a consultant or have a niche e-commerce site, establishing yourself as an expert in your field will help build your business, too.
– Identify and engage with prospective customers: There are social media purists who consider hunting for customers on social networks (social selling) a no-no. It’s really no different than networking offline. As with any offline business or social function you attend, there’s always the opportunity to find leads for your business. It’s in the way you go about it that makes all the difference in how you are received – online or off. The biggest rule of thumb is not to be pushy and dominate conversations with your sales pitches. Instead, have a genuine conversation with the people you meet and if you determine they may have a need for your type of product or service, then let them know what you do and how you might help. Instead of handing over a business card, as you would offline, give them a link to a helpful article or white paper (that may or may not be on your site) or give them a code for a free trial or something that doesn’t have strings attached. This type of “soft sell” approach is much less offensive and helps build trust for the long-haul.
– Find guest bloggers/content ideas: If you haven’t heard that “Content is King,” then one can only assume you’ve been in a blissful stupor of late. It seems that everyone and everything is dependent upon having quality content – and there’s never enough of it. As you meet others online, keep your eyes open for those who might be interested in contributing articles or short tips to your website or blog. In fact, it’s worthwhile to keep a list of potential guest bloggers or contributors that you can tap into, on occasion. Similarly, as you interact with others online, notice trending topics and common problems that are consistently discussed. If these conversations pertain to your business, or you can make a fun, current tie-in to the topics, then it’s a great way to build content ideas and prevent writer’s block.
– Expand your circle: This may seem obvious, but novice online networkers often think of these types of online relationships as temporary. ?Adding influential and helpful people to your circle (or list of connections, or friends) is another way to expand your actual network. That means these connections could lead to future jobs or business opportunities, just like they would offline. Don’t take your online network of new friends for granted. As with any professional relationship, the real value comes from staying in touch and exchanging ideas, tips and more. In other words, make a point to stay in touch and keep the relationship healthy. You may find a genuine connection.