Anyone who has tried to build a business knows how important it is to build awareness. If your customers don’t know you’re out there, how are they ever going to buy from you? So, how do you build awareness? Advertising is one way but you can also network. If you’re a business with a local customer base, you may already belong to a Chamber of Commerce or a networking group like BNI (Business Network International). So, what’s the equivalent of a Chamber of Commerce or BNI on the Internet?
Well, there are lots of opportunities to network online. There are forum groups, message boards and lots of social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. There are also millions of blogs to comment on. But, as I said in a previous post… “Don’t try to be all things to all people”. It’s ineffective. It’s best to concentrate on your niche target market. You need to be seen where your target customers are.
Let’s say that you’re a massage therapist and you have a brick and mortar store. You may decide to attract new business by offering free chair massages. Where would you do that? Would you offer them at a health fair or would you go to the local 4H Club fair? If you know who your target customers are, you should know where they’ll be and that’s where you need to be.
This same logic applies to social networking. Find out the demographics of the social networking sites that you’re considering joining and establish a presence there. Same thing goes for commenting on message boards and blogs. You’ll want to find blogs and forums where the other participants are interested in what you’re selling. Now let’s be perfectly clear on one thing. I am not advocating blatantly promoting and selling your product on these blogs and boards. That’s the easiest way to look like a “spammer”. I’m talking about building awareness of your business and reinforcing your brand.
So… how do you build an online relationship? You build it basically the same way as you do in person. Here are 3 simple tips for networking online:
#1 – Build Your Brand:
You’re going to need a “user name” and an “avatar”. (And no – I’m not talking about the movie here.) An avatar is an image that you use to identify yourself. Some people choose to use an image of themselves and some people prefer to use a graphic such as a business logo. Whatever you choose, stick with it. Think of it as part of your brand. You want people to recognize your avatar (and user name) the same way they would recognize your face if this were traditional face-to-face networking. Personally, I recommend using Gravatar to manage your“avatar”.
#2 – Be Where Your Customers Are:
First off, you need to protect your brand. So, I recommend creating profiles and reserving your user name on as many places as you can. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace may immediately come to mind but don’t forget sites like Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Mixx and others. I believe in having an active presence on a few sites to start. You can’t possibly do a good job building relationships on all of these sites at once but you also don’t want someone else (possibly a competitor) reserving your user name before you do.
#3 – Make it Personal:
Sometimes, it’s difficult to let your human side be known online. (Although, sometimes, people let too much of their human side be seen.) As I’ve said before, people like to do business with people that they like and trust. If you’re knowledgeable about something, maybe you can answer questions online or share your experiences or maybe you’re the fun creative type who makes us laugh. Don’t be afraid to show your unique personality but whatever you do, keep in mind that everything you do is either a relationship builder or a relationship destroyer. That’s true for networking both face-to-face and online.
What are your thoughts? Have you driven website traffic or increased your sales through social networking? I’d love to hear from you.