The importance of networking for your business – in person and through social media
Networking is a powerful marketing tool and can be very beneficial for your business. Assisted by the right strategy, it can create word-of-mouth referrals for you, known to be the most effective marketing tool. Faced with a choice, most people prefer a trusted recommendation when looking for a product or services.
Thanks to the rapid development of technology, we now have a plethora of online networking tools at our disposal. In addition to attending face to face business networking events, you have endless opportunities for expanding your customer network through the appropriate use of social media.
Although there is an abundance of these to choose from, you should be selective in order to ensure you don’t spend more time marketing your offering than carrying out paid work. Nevertheless, integrating personal networking with Facebook, Twitter, blogging, LinkedIn and your businesswebsite, along with an appropriate marketing strategy, can be extremely effective if applied correctly.
You should remember that networking does not simply mean personal promotion and getting more customers. It is more about expanding on your existing network of friends, acquaintances and customers, and leveraging on their networks. It is about creating, building and nurturing relationships, gaining credibility and trust, and showing off your professionalism, knowledge and expertise. This means that it is a long term strategy, so do not expect results overnight. It requires time and effort to be successful, with lots of pro-activity and patience from your side.
So where to start? There are several types of face to face networking events, and it is good to try at least some of them to see which one suits your personal style. Good examples of established organisations are BNI, 4Networking and the Business over Breakfast Club. Business events such as The Canterbury Tweetup or similar business networking event in Whitstable are less formal, and potentially less intimidating for people inexperienced in this kind of networking. I would encourage you to try as many as you feel appropriate, using them to meet people, engage in introductory conversations, and where appropriate to follow up your leads to get to know some people better. Networking does not finish after the first handshake: it is useful to send a follow-up email, meet for a coffee, and definitely connect on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Integrating social media into your standard networking strategy will take you to the next level of interaction with potential customers.
A good approach for showing off your expertise and what you can offer is to include a blog on your website. This will help your expanding network to know you better, and also to benefit from your knowledge. You should then recommend every blog post you write through Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.
Overall, I believe that Twitter is your best marketing friend. Its advantages are copious: in particular it is used every day by millions of people who create, discover and share ideas. Both small and large enterprises find great value in the connections they establish on Twitter. Although for some people Twitter is a medium for meaningless chat, this is not true nowadays. Do not miss out on this very powerful marketing tool: ‘Innovate or die‘, as the business guru Tom Peters once said.
Twitter, similarly to Facebook page, will help you to connect with your current and prospective customers, facilitate two-way communication and promete easy feedback. It will assist you with branding and marketing strategy, will expose your coupons and giveaways, and help you share your knowledge and expertise from your blog.
Where Twitter is, in my opinion, more powerful than Facebook, is its viral nature (that is the ability to spread in an uncontrolled manner – potentially an advantage or disadvantage, but very useful if the message is positive for you), and the fact that your messages are visible to users worldwide, not just your friends. It therefore helps you to benchmark against your competitors, and so aids your efforts to add value. It not only allows you to receive instant customer feedback, but can also multiply your networking at an incredible rate. Provided your tweets are frequent and meaningful, you will gain exposure and build relationships at an incredible speed. Twitter also enables you to conduct free market research, as any question you ask is rapidly answered (often by many people), provided you use a proper hashtag.
On which subject, what is a hashtag? It is a label with the hash (#) symbol aiming to group the tweets so they can be found easier and faster. You can create your own hashtag and put it in any of your tweets. Alternatively, you can use established ones, so make sure you search for the hashtag you have in mind before you put it into your tweet. If the one you have used has already been used for something else this could create confusion at best, or extreme embarrassment at worst!
Both Twitter and Facebook are also great for your search engine optimisation (SEO). This simply means how easily you are found by the search engines such as Google. In general, the more fresh content you generate, the better your SEO. Therefore, writing your blog posts frequently, and publicising them on Twitter and Facebook, increases your SEO, provided the content is not the same each time. Search engines dislike repetitions and will punish you for that, moving you to the bottom of the search.
Frequent and interesting tweets and Facebook posts will also act to your benefit in terms of SEO. Twitter is also great for the public relations (PR) community, because many journalists use Twitter looking for stories. Your post might just attract their attention (should you desire it!).
One important aspect to bear in mind is that your social media posts are truly professional. This means avoiding an aggressive sales pitches, bragging, and meaningless messages. It is useful to share valuable business related content and knowledge, for example what you wrote on your blog, interesting articles, events, or promotions. It is always good to retweet or share interesting content posted by other people: this is a form of networking in its own right. In this way you can engage in online conversations, and help others with your knowledge and expertise, form long term, strong relationships, and build trust and engage in partnerships.
I hope to have convinced you of the power and importance of an integrated social media strategy for your business development and growth. In this article I have only concentrated on Twitter and Facebook, but there are many more. The one to watch in the near future is Google+: this has great potential and has just introduced pages, but its relative novelty takes it out of scope for this short article. At present, however, becoming a regular business user of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can be a powerful way to generate word-of-mouth referrals, and will build your network rapidly, provided you offer an interesting and meaningful content. Combine a social media networking strategy with a face-to-face approach, and you will both have fun and the potential to gain loyal customers for the long term.
About the author: Dr Aga Gordon, MBA is a business management consultant and trainer specialising in helping ambitious business owners and managers to improve performance through creative and innovative methods. She also offers specialist English/Polish translation. She runs The Canterbury Tweetup, free business networking event in Canterbury (www.canterburytweetup.com). Follow Aga on Twitter @acgtranslation or contact her on 07878957519.