How to Network Online Using Social Media (and What to do When It’s Time to Take Your Relationship Offline…)

Networking online is fast, free, and easy.  No face-to-face meeting means even the most socially awkward among us are capable of building vast virtual networks.  Online platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter allow you to display your company’s brand and information clearly and liberally, which builds your visibility.  Special interest groups and hashtags allow you to deliver your messages right to your ideal clients, while industry and professional forums give you the opportunity to ask questions and build professional networks.

The fast, free, easy nature of online networking is also its downside.  Because connections are formed and maintained virtually, the “ties that bind” are not as strong as in-person relationships.  In order to be successful online, you have to stay active…like, all the time.  Profiles on your social network accounts need to be updated continuously, and you have to be proactive about regularly connecting with new people.  Plan to spend time every day engaging with your existing network and adding new contacts.

How do you maximize that time you’re spending online to build your network?  Here’s my top six tips to network successfully online:

  • Complete your profiles. Don’t you hate it when you want to find out more about a company, but their profile is incomplete. Or, worse yet, blank?  Don’t be that company.  Do an audit of all your social media accounts.  Are your profiles complete and up-to-date?  If not, do it now.
  • Create good content. Show your value and your expertise by publishing regular blog articles on your website, then sharing links to those articles on your social media channels so that your network sees your activity.  Share your articles via your email list.  Post articles on LinkedIn Pulse and share those articles in LinkedIn groups.  Respond promptly to any comments you receive and thank your followers when they share your content with their own network.
  • Go where your ideal customers are. Think about the channels your clients are using. For B2B, that means LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+.  If you’re marketing directly to consumers, consider Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.
  • Engage in the conversation. If you showed up at a party where you knew no one, would you instantly jump onto a table and start shouting about your product or service?  The same decorum holds true for online networking.  Participate in the conversation by commenting, liking, sharing, or retweeting.  Get comfortable with the discussions and share your business when it’s appropriate to the conversation.
  • Find niche groups. Most social media channels allow special interest groups.  Research the groups where your clients are likely to be engaged, and join those. For instance, if your ideal clients are engineering firms, join a LinkedIn group for professional engineers.  If your ideal client is a stay-at-home mom in your immediate geographical area, search for groups on Facebook.  If you’re a copywriter and want to partner with a graphic designer to create more value, find niche groups for graphic designers.  You get the picture.
  • Share the love. Learn to use @ and # to reference influencers that have had an impact on you personally or with whom you hope to connect professionally.  These can include a blogger you follow, a well-known name in your industry, or even a former boss.  Get comfortable giving shout-outs to people in your posts, it feels good and it strengthens your relationships with others.  Plus, they get a notification whenever they’re mentioned, so they’ll also take notice of you and may return the love by sharing your content (and, thus, your name and brand). It’s like networking karma.

Take your online networking offline…

Connecting online is great!  It’s free, easy, and saves a ton of time.  But what happens when you want to connect with your ideal client or partners in person?  Here are three suggestions to take your online networking offline.

  • Attending a professional event? Going to a seminar or conference?  Let your network know you’ll be there and invite them to meet in person if they will also be attending.
  • And, vice versa. Watch your network for the conferences and events they will be attending. If you’re attending the same event, reach out to them and suggest a meeting in person. ‘
  • Go to an offline meeting of an online group. You’re not the first networking to want to get some face time with their prospects, and many groups that had their beginnings online have begun to hold meetings offline as well.  Make time to attend.

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