Editor’s Note: Annie Mueller provides value-filled, relevant content to help small businesses build an effective online presence. In over 6 years of freelance writing, she’s never had an unhappy client.
Networking is about meeting and building relationships with people for a purpose. It’s that last part that counts in the definition, the purposeful part. Otherwise we’re all just socializing, which is what much of it amounts to anyway because if you don’t know your purpose, it’s pretty difficult to achieve it. That’s fine if you just enjoy socializing for the sake of socializing (and, actually, the best social networkers are people like that usually). However, if you’re spending marketing dollars and the prosperity of your business depends on the success of your social networking, you’d better do a bit more than socialize.
1. The Question You’d Better Answer First
Why are you interested in social networking? To build your business? How, exactly?Do you sell online or just promote online? Are you locally, nationally, or internationally focused? Do you want people to talk about your business online, share your links, spread the word about you, learn more about you, recommend you, sign up for a program, get a free sample, get your e-newsletter, read your blog, interact with you, ask questions, get a membership, order a product, pay for a service, refer you to their friends? If social networking works for you just the way you want it to, what will the results be? Get that pinned down first; don’t tweet a single character or start a Facebook page or write a blog post until you know the answer to this question:What do you hope to accomplish from your social networking? What are your ideal results? Be very specific; don’t say, “I want my business to grow.” Say, “I want 75 members in my exclusive coaching clubs,” or “I want to sell 6,000 widgets online next year,” or “I want 100,000 readers so I can sell pricey ads on my site,” or “I want 250+ people in my referral program,” or “I want 100 customers to sign up for my gold-level service club.”
2. Believe in what you have to offer.
Billy Mays. Everybody wished he would be a little bit quieter but nobody doubted he really loved that OxiClean. And he sold it. Bob Ross. He was all calm and light and happy trees and you just knew you could paint that way, too, if you listened to him. He believed it, and he sold it. Tyler Florence. A gourmet chef singing the praises of a packaged salad dressing? Er. Something’s screechy and wrong here. If what you are trying to sell violates the principles you have already defined for yourself and your business, don’t waste your time trying to sell it. You either have to find a new product or service which fits with the way you’ve defined yourself, or you have to redefine yourself and your business. If you can’t convince yourself that what you have to offer is genuinely worthy, then you cannot convince anyone else. Believe in your business, first. If you’re in one of those slog points, revisit the notes you made on top of the mountain. Remember your strengths. Think about your unique offer. Define the value and make sure it’s something you believe in.
3. Find the right people: the ones who actually need and will benefit from what you offer.
Target your online audience as (or more) carefully as you target your target market. Who will be interested in what you have to offer? Don’t waste your time trying to interest “everybody.” NOTHING (except maybe toilet paper) has universal appeal. Focus on the people who will love, adore, and build small shrines to the solution you bring them. They will become your secondary marketers and will talk a whole bunch of other (fringe) people into trying your business, too. They will be passionate, enthusiastic, and committed customers. Get these people. Focus on them. Pour your attention onto them. Quit trying to convince a huge crowd of slightly disinterested folks to get interested in you, and instead, start talking to the people who are already into your field. Your job is half-done.
4. Find a (free) preliminary way to solve problems.
Before you sell, give. This is a basic idea of permission marketing, education-based marketing, and Golden Rule marketing, which are all pretty much the same thing. So pick a name and then apply the concept by giving first. Offer genuine value. Don’t try to cheap out at this point. People will flee and never return.
5. Find and focus on 1 to 3 social outlets.
Even if you have a full-time, salaried social networker plugging away for your business, focusing on a few social outlets rather than trying to have a presence on all of them will get you better results. Of course Facebook and Twitter are the big daddies, but if you know your target audience well (and you should) go where they are, whether that’s Facebook, Twitter, ZombieLandForums.com, or somewhere else entirely. Go to the people you want to reach and focus on a few of the places where they hang out online.
6. Be enthusiastic.
Because if you don’t really care or even like it that much, why should anybody else? Introverts, break out of your personality a bit and show some emotion. If that’s utterly impossible for you, delegate or hire out so you get a voice out there with some enthusiasm in it. Otherwise you waste your time.
7. Offer value, help, and attention.
First, offer free items of value. This could be content (your blog, your resources) or samples (don’t be cheap) or trials or digital products (ebooks, podcasts) or giveaways or clubs or services.Second, offer help when you see a need and, definitely, whenever people ask for it. Don’t hesitate. Don’t count up the loss of billable hours. Help.Third, offer attention when people start interacting with you. Don’t work to get people to notice you and then ignore them when they do. Follow up. Listen, Respond. Interact. Be real. Give your attention.
8. Be consistent.
Give people familiarity and reliability. They tend to like that sort of thing.
- Consistent message: say one thing, say it clearly, and repeat it often.
- Consistent value: don’t create one great product and then cheap out on the next. Your customers will feel betrayed.
- Consistent method: if you blog, post on the same days and follow the same format; if you tweet, offer the same kind of helpful info all the time; whatever you do, set up a format that works for your goal and stick with it. Sure, some variation and creativity is great; just work within some basic boundaries so people know what you offer and aren’t disappointed. It only takes one visit to a blog without a recent post for a visitor to strike you off the “live” list.
9. Be ready to sell what you have to offer.
If you follow the steps as outlined, eventually (maybe much sooner than you think) people will ask, “What else?” You’ve offered value, you’ve been sincere, you’re enthusiastic and likeable, you’ve been helpful, you’ve been consistent. You’ve won them over. They like you. They want to give back. They are eager to invest back in you the way you have invested in them. So give them a way to do just that!
- Make it obvious. Obvious doesn’t mean obnoxious. No flashing signs or neon arrows necessary, but a nice big button that says, “Order XYZ Product Here” could do the trick.
- Make it easy. Purchasing should be a simple, one or two step process.
- Make it sincere. Any sales material you have needs to reflect the heart and vision of your business. Go back to step 1: do you still believe in your business? Put that belief into words. Be real. You can always get an editor.
- Make it subordinate. Yes, this is your business; but your first goal must remain – always – to help the people in your network. If you know that they would be better helped by another product or service, or that your product/service will NOT help them, then it is your responsibility to say so. You may lose a sale, but you will gain a reputation that is worth many more sales in the future.
10. Follow up with even more value after the sale.
Repeat steps #7 and #8 with everyone who buys from you. Sound like hard work? It is. That’s the thing with social networking: it isn’t a magic button or an automatic cash cow. There is no keyword strategy that can build a business without any real value any it. So build a good foundation. Put the work in. And here’s the good news: the initial work will pay off exponentially. That’s the magic part of the social networking model, and it does work. Once you put in the work, the time, the belief, the energy, the effort, the attention, and the value, you win over a few people who love you like you love your business: maybe 10, maybe 100, maybe 1000. Then they network for you. The 10 becomes 100, the 100 becomes 1000, the 1000 becomes 10,000. And it keeps growing. You keep giving, of course. So yes: social networking, done right, is 1) hard work which 2) requires time and effort and 3) takes time before it pays off. But it also 4) does pay off and 5) the returns can be quite great and often 6) will take off and continue to grow far beyond the original investment you made.
Photo Credit: Intersection Consulting