Taking Your Networking Online

Today’s post is from guest blogger, Fiona Powell. Fiona is the founder of flokka and entrepreneurette – two online communities for women in business. She provides some easy, down to earth suggestions on how to network.

Networking and word of mouth marketing has changed dramatically in the last few years – are you keeping up? No longer is networking just about turning up to a networking event armed with business cards, juggling a chicken drumstick in one hand and wine glass in the other while citing your ‘elevator pitch’. Networking is happening online, 24/7 – and here are some ideas to take your networking online.

Have a plan

Before diving right in, develop a plan. Ask yourself what do you want to achieve from social networking? Is it more traffic to your website; more leads to convert to sales; more people on your database; more brand awareness? Next question is to figure out how much time you can dedicate to social networking. Most business people join two or three relevant networks and focus their energies on cultivating relationships within these – rather than the scatter gun approach.

Join some social networks

Ask around and find out what the popular networks for your industry, for your customers, for your competitors are – maybe these are the networks to join first. The most popular and broadest business networks (currently) are Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. Others are Plaxo, Xing and Orkut and Ecademy. Once you’ve joined (and they’re all free!) set up your profile page. Include your detailed bio information (tailored to that network) and all your contact details (blog address, twitter address, website etc) so people can learn more about you and connect with you. Upload your photo too (you wouldn’t attend a networking function wearing a paper bag over your head would you?). Sites like LinkedIn are optimised for search engines – so if someone is searching your name, chances are they’ll find – and view – your profile page information.

Join the conversation

It’s okay to be a ‘voyeur’ for awhile to learn the ‘etiquette’ and discover how people are using the network; but that’s like standing in the corner of the room of a networking event and watching; sometimes you do need to walk over and say hello. Most networks have ‘groups’ on specific topics, industries or interests. In these groups you’ll find lots of discussions happening – join in or start your own discussion thread. When you’re reading blog posts, leave a thoughtful comment; maybe an additional point that the author didn’t cover; or relate your experiences; or even challenge the author.  Again, you’re becoming part of the ‘conversation’ online.

Be seen, get known

Let people know you’re online and where they can find you; include your Twitter and LinkedIn address on your blog, your website, on your business cards and on your email signature. Most networks will ‘recommend’ people to connect with, or identify people you may even know, or you can invite your own peers or clients – these are all good starting points to grow your online network. Build your following online by making it easy for people to sign up for your e-newsletter on your blog and have RSS feeds enabled so people can subscribe to your content either by email or through a feed reader.

Givers Gain

Networking is about giving first and online you’ll find lots of opportunities to give. On LinkedIn go the Questions section and answer those in need of help or advice. On Twitter, tweet interesting blog articles you’re reading. On LinkedIn recommend people who’ve given you good service. Offer to write a guest post for blogs in your industry. And a final word… one element of networking that doesn’t change whether you’re online or offline is that you’re building relationships; be courteous, be yourself, and don’t be pushy or spammy.

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