A huge part of networking in small business today happens not just at the local chamber of commerce event or even down at the local coffee shop, but online, through BizSugar.com or one of many other social media sites out there.
But how do you smile, share a business card and make friendly conversation with millions of fellow business owners, potential partners and customers from all around the world using nothing but an uploaded photo and your laptop keyboard?
Sure, there’s an endless stream of books and free and paid downloads from countless so-called social media gurus to show you how, but we thought we’d save you the time and money, so we’ve put together this list of the most important tips you’ll need to network like a social media guru today:
1. Go with the flow.
Social media is a whole new medium to be sure but some of the old rules still apply. Don’t get uptight and worry about the mistakes you could make. Instead, just pick a social media site or two that seem to reach your audience, sign up for a free account adding a bit of simple information about yourself and your business and get started.
2. Practice Good Karma.
Much like most other things in small business and in life, success in social media has a lot to do with getting out what you put in. If you would like to have others read, comment on and vote for the articles and posts you share, be sure to do the same for them. But more than that, work hard to make the community a better place for all members by adding value in your comments and the posts and links you contribute.
3. Be Groovy.
Don’t act in a self-serving way. This obviously means no spamming other members by adding links and articles that are straight up advertisements or promotions for your products and services, but it also means avoiding comments and links that are all about you. Show genuine interest in others and, like we said above, it will come back to you.
4. Show Your Inner Light.
This is a tricky one. While all of us have heard plenty about being careful with the kind of personal information we share on the Internet, the fact is that being all business and avoiding any kind of personal exchange in social media will get you the same kind of reaction it would at a chamber mixer. Be careful not to dominate the conversations you have with other members (see point 3) but letting a bit of your own personality shine through is a good thing.
Make an effort to reach out to others whose submissions you have enjoyed and commented upon or who have commented, voted or “favorited” your links or profile. “Friend” them on the social media site you happen to be using, make a habit of commenting on their posts when possible in the future, exchange e-mails and perhaps connect with them on other social media sites where you both have accounts.
6. Attain Balance.
When sharing links on a social media site, don’t just post articles from your own blog or Website. Share other things from around the Web that you find interesting and that your friends in social media might find interesting too. Concentrate less on actively trying to gain exposure for an individual post and more on becoming a valued source of great information in the community.
7. Share Your Energy.
If there’s anything you can do to facilitate the networking going on in your social media group, do it. Draw attention to your favorite posts by others, perhaps by “favoriting” them, leaving a comment or voting. Arrange for e-mail or other introductions between members you know who might share common interests. Networking is an art form and much of it is directed outward.
8. Give Back.
Share information about your favorite social media site with everyone you know or meet elsewhere online. Proudly display links, buttons or other information or just blog or comment on the good experience you’ve had remembering that the community you help build will also nurture and sustain you.
Social media is not a place to simply promote what you have to say in a one-way conversation, with other members as a passive audience for your talent and ideas. Sharing involves communication, interaction and exchange. Don’t just start conversations. Read others’ links and comments and contribute your own thoughts as well.
10. Embrace Your Community.
Once you’ve made a commitment to a particular social media community, visit and contribute regularly…even if it’s only once a week or once a month. Don’t make it appear that your interest is limited to dropping in every once in while to gain some extra traffic for one of your sites. Other members can sense a fraud or phony and you will suffer for it in diminishing returns.
And, hey, while you’re getting your feet wet, feel free to drop by and join our own social media site, BizSugar.com, full of small business owners just like you. It’s free and we’d love to have you, so please drop by.