Hate wining and dining? Harness the power of tech to build a strong network from wherever you want to be.
By Sophia Solanki (Co-founder, DrumUp)
Networking is more art than science. While it comes more naturally to some, quite a few of us need to constantly make a conscious effort to build and groom a solid professional network.
To top it, as an entrepreneur, with so much to do and so little time, staying connected and meeting new people can certainly become a challenge.
So, how do you build and maintain a network, without stepping out every couple of days or being on the phone for hours? Social media connections and conversations can be just as valuable and lesser effort intensive than the traditional ways of networking. Not to say that the latter is replaceable completely, but the social networks allow you stay active, visible and make new connections more efficiently.
Can there be a method behind this art? Well, why not – like with everything, a methodical and meticulous approach can make a difference:
Step 1: Build a Strong Social Media Presence
Just like in the real world, to make an impression, you have to present well. The virtual social world is no different – outdated or incomplete social profiles, little or no activity are all signs that you are disinterested in the social community.
If you have limited time on your hands, prioritize the networks that make most sense for your professional niche. While it would be desirable to have an equally strong presence across all platforms, it’s natural, and perhaps even advisable that you identify one or two primary channels of communication.
Take, for instance, Jessica Northey and Aaron Lee, who both made Forbes’ top 10 list of social media influencers in 2013. While Jessica said she was drifting from blogs and leaning towards Google+, Aaron has always been strong on Twitter.
This is not to imply that you should ignore other platforms while focusing all your energy on a particular one, but simply to say that you are likely to be more comfortable using one or two of them actively.
Irrespective of which platform you choose, the key to building your social media presence lies in staying active. To be visible on the social networks, posting content regularly is important. While there are no set rules around what is the right number of posts per day for different platforms, but taking a cue from influencers in your network is a good idea.
Now the big question – what content do you share? Coming up with original content is great, but not very practical every day.
The next best alternative is to curate content, mix it with some original work when possible, and share it with your network. Content curation and social sharing tools like DrumUp and Feedly, can save you a lot of time planning your daily social presence.
Step 2: Get Connected with Influencers
Connecting with influencers on social media can be tricky. As a first step, you’ll have to find out the influencers in your domain. One way to identify them is to check who your competitors or peers are following. Once you zero-in on an influencer, look for his/her preferred social platform and reach out there.
In addition to influencers, connecting with ex-colleagues, your school batch mates, and other relevant people is equally important. Influencers are connected to many people and you may or may not catch their attention, but your personal connections can go a long way.
Also, engaging with groups and communities on platforms like LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook is a great way to connect with more people.
Step 3: Get the Conversation Going
It may be tough in the beginning to kick-start conversations with people you have never met before. But trust me, it’s much easier in the social world than the real.
The usual conversation starters, like a compliment on a recent article or accomplishment, could work well. Or an intelligent comment on a viewpoint can trigger a conversation too. An even easier approach will be participating regularly in active group or community discussions.
If influencers are who you are targeting specifically, simple things such as setting up Google alerts to follow their web presence could present you with a number of opportunities to connect. If you come across some good content they’ve shared, give them more mileage and share it on Twitter.
It’s still important to acknowledge that not every outreach effort may be fruitful. Know that you may hit roadblocks. It helps you avoid getting frustrated when you don’t get positive responses. Once a conversation is initiated be careful not to rush it. Give it time to take its due course.
Like in real life, there is social media etiquette to be followed while starting conversations. While Twitter doesn’t give you much scope to ramble on, you need to be cautious on more generous platforms like Facebook and Google+.
Say just what you have to, without unnecessary elaboration, and never be demanding. After all, the goal is establishing a long-term relationship rather than converting on some immediate request.
Step 4: Try Outside-the-Box Tactics
Creativity can yield great results in social networking. Take for instance the case of Emma, an email marketing service, which interviews social media influencers and uses their influence to reach out to a large number of social media users.
Not only is the Emma team able to create valuable content for its audience this way, but over time some of the interviewees have also become Emma’s customers and some others have invited Emma to sponsor events and its representatives to participate in high-profile events.
Another creative approach to social networking is inviting experts to answer thought-provoking questions. This can be done on all social media platforms. You can start a poll on Facebook and ask an expert to comment on the results. Or you can even directly request an influencer to answer a question you Tweeted by using an @mention.
There can be many more ways to connect with professionals online – being creative allows you to stand out and get the best results.
Step 5: Keep up Your Social Media Reputation
Your reputation reflects what your audience thinks of you and this image is created based on what they perceive you to be. If you want your audience to perceive you in a particular way, then that image needs to come through in your social media interactions as well. There may be times when you have an angry, dissatisfied customer taking you down on Facebook, but what really matters is how you handle such a customer.
Don’t ignore negative comments and criticism, but analyze them for validity and accept constructive feedback with grace. After all the effort you invest in creating a social media presence, the last thing you need is a bad reputation while you’re trying to build a network.
Getting out there no longer means getting off your couch (or just as well your office chair! ) – the connected world presents a number of opportunities online. Give them a go!
How are you using different social media networks to promote your business?
Photo credit: VGstockstudio via Shutterstock.