We recently launched this social network to help entrepreneurs build connections that can support business development. We launched this based on recommendations from people we have worked with (specifically Sara Rampersaud) to provide connections and assistance to those launching/growing small businesses in Ohio.
In the spirit of Guy Kawasaki here are my top 10 basics on how to benefit from using social networking sites....note...I'm along way from being an expert at this so I hope people leave some good comments.
1. Build a good profile ~ There is a difference between looking in the window and going into the store. To benefit from social networking sites you need to become part of the experience and the way to do that is to build a profile. I signed up for Twitter about a month before I actually used it. Once I did use it I got hooked and don't know how to live without it but it all started with building a profile and getting started. There is more to building a profile than simply signing up. First...Try to put something in the picture box: If you don't have a picture of yourself that's fine but anything is better than the face-less model that most sites use. Second...Develop an introduction to you and your business: Be sure to build an introduction or "about" section and don't make it all business. True networking is about relationships and you need to give people some level of insight into you as a person.
2. Make yourself connectable ~ Once you have a profile make sure you have all of the ways in which people can find you on-line. Let people connect the way they want. I have friends across various platforms. Some people like Facebook some like LinkedIn and some Twitter, etc. I have all of my connection points linked on my site. You can reach me in whatever way you are comfortable.
3. Participate don't just sell ~ If there is one thing I hate is when people call me and want to meet so they can sell me and close me that day. I get people who show up and want to do training workshops for our small business clients and expect me to set the date and time right then. The problem with that is that I only use people to speak that I know or know of. I need to guarantee the quality of the program and I can't do that with people I don't know. It is the same thing with in a social networking environment. Participate and at least people will be used to seeing your name if you contact them.
4. Build connections ~ A couple of weeks ago I was at the Association for Small Business Development Centers (ASBDC) conference and attended a session on social networking. The first thing I was shocked at was how little the attendees knew about social networking, which in retrospect I should have expected. The second thing that jumped out was their aversion to the use of the term "Friend" when building connections in social networking. It was viewed as to casual and not professional. I can see that but in most cases that's the way it is so get past it and use of the word friends (I actually like having friends but that's just me). Whatever you call it you should invite "friends" so you can connect and communicate easier. Once you do connect send them a message or post a "thanks for the add" or something like that. Again start to build a relationship.
5. Participate in discussion forums ~Discussion forums are a great way to get answers to business questions or to demonstrate some knowledge you may have by replying to a question. Remember that people will be hesitant to post questions when they are new to the site but may be more inclined to post replies so post some questions you may have then start a dialog about the issue instead of waiting for questions to pop up.
6. Participate in groups ~ Most sites have the opportunity to develop or join groups that hold particular interest to them. We have groups on "SBDC Free Expert Advice" around topics and/or events we are holding. Great way to interact with people that have specific interests in topics similar to you.
7. Post a Blog ~ Posting a blog can be a great way to share some knowledge that you have on particular subjects. Posting blogs on social sites is nice when you don't have time to really carry a full blog site but still like to write about topics you are interested in. Also, don't be afraid of comments. You can learn a lot from other peoples' knowledge.
8. Use the Events Feature to Learn of Professional Development Opportunities ~ With today's spam filters I often miss e-mail notices of events unless I remember to go to the organization's site or they have RSS feeds to let me know. With many social networking sites now you can tap into networks or groups to learn of events or webcasts available as well as videos relating to educational opportunities.
9. Learn from others ~ Social networks provide great opportunities to learn from others. I have learned so much from URL post on Twitter about everything from local activities to business trends to what is going on in the technology arena. The key is that I learned it from the other members that I've connected with not from static web searches. Very interactive and very valuable.
10. Meet Face to Face ~ Finally, set up face to face interactions (or at least phone calls). I'm an on-line guy, I love all of this stuff, but there is no substitute for sitting down and talking face to face. I have met many people through my interactions on-line and when I can I set a meeting to meet in person. I met Jim Canterucci, author of "Personal Brilliance" through Twitter. We met, and I am planning on having him be the opening keynote at the Ohio Growth Summit 2009 in June. I followed his posts on-line and reviewed his site but until we met I didn't know if we could do business, after the meeting I knew Jim was the right person for the Summit. Susan Rowan, a past speaker at the Summit, has a new book "Face to Face: How to reclaim the Personal Touch in a Digital World". Susan gets it...She is connected in the on-line world (as a matter of fact we are connected on LinkIn, Facebook and Twitter) but she knows the real value comes from a face to face interaction.
So there you have it my top 10 list on the basics of using social networks for business. I like what Gary Moneysmith said on his blog "Social Media @ Work & Play" "...put yourself into the mindset that people are having online conversations. They’re not just querying search engines anymore; they’re talking to each other. It may seem overwhelming to imagine millions of people talking to each other, but that’s exactly what’s happening. And like your mother-in-law, they’re also showing off photos and videos, too. It’s time for you to have a voice."