"What is Social Networking and Why Should I Care?" (part 1 of 3)

This is a question I’m hearing a lot these days…current clients are seeking new venues to promote their web presence, new clients are seeking a cost-effective way to promote their business before they can afford a website, and they’ve all heard that something called “social networking” – a.k.a. Web 2.0 – can hold the key to fulfilling their desires.

Yes, Web 2.0 sounds like a good thing for sure…the only question is, umm, what is it? Is it the magic freebie marketing bullet, a voracious eater of time, or something in between?

The answer is – of course – all of the above, depending on how you use it. Without a plan, you could spend a lifetime and a half on social networking without ever achieving anything but a pile of personal profiles, company profiles, half-started blogs, and assorted other false starts. In short, Web 2.0 is just as ripe an opportunity for time-wasting as anything else you could name, if you approach it without a plan.

But if you’ve got a plan —-!!!

That’s when social networking can become a formidable tool to build your Web presence, establish your expertise, get yourself known as an online guru and all-round good guy/gal, and in the end, build your business. And – unlike costly advertising campaigns – you can do all of this completely free of charge.

But how does it work? Here’s an analogy to help explain the concept…

Imagine the full range of real-time networking opportunities you have – from national sales conferences and expos to small chapters of professional organizations or NGOs. You can set up a booth at the Co-op America Green Festival, sign up to speak at your state Chamber of Commerce, volunteer in your local Sierra Club chapter, or anything in between. Most likely, you’ll select the ones that are most relevant to your business, and participate in those.

Same principle online! You can create a profile in mega-social networks like MySpace or FaceBook, target your audience on an “enlightened” network like Gaia.com, check out the ultra-specific networks on Ning.com, or create an educational resource for your clients on a Squidoo lens. And there are many, many other options…take your pick!

So you make your choice, and here you are, with people from all different types of businesses who may need your services. Your first job is to build your profile – the way you’ll show up on this network.

Remember, the idea here is social networking, not hard sell! You want your profile to have a friendly tone, offer a little information about who you are as a person, not just a business owner, let people get to know something about what you love, value, believe in.

You might write about what first attracted you to your line of business, perhaps, or what especially excites you about your field of interest today. Be sure to include a few personal tidbits…perhaps a story about how the values you promote affect your private life (for example, what surprises did you discover when you started to green your home? What was it like, the first time you used a reel mower?). And don’t forget to include a link back to your business website (if you have one) or an email, Instant Message, or Skype address where you can be reached.

Now that your profile is up, it’s time to explore…enter the keywords that describe your business into the network’s search engine, and see what comes up. Check out the groups you find, the hot topics they’re discussing. What’s on their minds? In other words, do your market research. Who is in this crowd, and where are the people who might need you?

Got the lay of the land now? It’s time to start actively networking…finding and joining groups in your field of interest, dropping comments into the forums, introducing yourself, making connections. Establishing yourself as an interesting and knowledgeable person they’d like to know better, giving them a way to see more of what you do.

It’s all about finding likeminded souls in businesses that support, or are supported by, your own. And when all these interested people now have you on their radar… what do you do now? Start the hard sell? NO!

Just as you would offline, you start building friendships. Send these new connections a note saying “Nice to meet you!” Email them a news article about one of their interests. Refer a potential customer to them if you can. It keeps you on their radar, builds trust, and establishes a solid connection between you, so when they have a need that you can fill – who’s the first person they’ll think of? You – and you’ll hardly have to “sell” at all!

That’s how you can start to market in social networks like MySpace and FaceBook…using your profile, interests, and all the sharing functions to do exactly what you would do in real-time networking.

But where in real-time networking, this would pretty much describe the whole strategy, there’s much, much more in Web 2.0 social networking…

Tune in next week, when I demystify the many ways you can show up as a social networker!

If you want to see some of my own social networking appearances, visit me at:

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