This article is appearing in the September issue of MeetingsSA and thought I’d give it an airing here as well.
Building a network. Anyone who is in business and particularly those starting a business, realises very quickly the need for a network.
In the time of social media this is more important than ever before. We live in a time when a peer recommendation is gold. Everyone has a glitzy looking website that tells its visitors how good your business is, how committed you are to customer service and a few good looking testimonials. But all this is trumped by someone in your network telling another that you are perfect for the job!
How do you use social media to build a powerful network?
Modern networking is closely associated with personal branding. Personal branding used to be the arena of the Richard Bransons of the world. Today everyone needs to be thinking of themselves as a brand and how to constantly improve that brand.
A brand is defined for our purposes as a collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer. How are you perceived? How is your business perceived? The answer to these questions tells you the state of your brand.
Everything you do on social media should be geared to improving those perceptions. So the question to ask here then is “How do I want to be perceived?” then work to build that perception through excellent delivery of your services.
Another factor to consider is the merging of our personal and professional lives. There was a time when these were distinctly separate. You arrived at work in the morning, engaged in business and then went home in the evening where your personal life took over. The emergence of the internet, social media and smart phones changed all of that. We are all constantly connected with the consequence that we do business at all hours, we are friends on social platforms with clients & colleagues and it is hard to know where our personal and professional lives begin and end.
The truth is, they don’t. Your personal brand is the combination of your personal and professional life as portrayed on digital platforms. And before you decide that “this is not for you” remember that if you are not actively branding yourself then you can be sure that others are doing it for you.
The brand YOU is made of the following:
- Your profession
- Your values
- Your expertise
- Your style
- Your personality
- How you interact with your network.
It is through network interaction that your brand is built. This is where the world sees you in action. By definition a network should be mutually beneficial, which is to say, it is not all about you. One of the biggest complaints against any individual in a network is “we only hear from her when she needs something.” It is the most common and fatal flaw in networking to only interact with it when you need something.
This is where social media shines. Think of the followers you have on Twitter or the friends you have on Facebook and how you would communicate with them face to face. Make it a habit to interact. Read what others are saying and interact. Share, comment, like, retweet and respond. This lets people know you value their efforts, that you are actually reading what they have to say and find their contributions valuable. This is probably the most important aspect of network building. In fact your interaction with others is more important than what you are saying. It’s the digital version of being interested instead of interesting.
This is how you build your network:
If I Google you and don’t find you, you may as well not exist. Be on as many platforms as you can comfortably deal with. Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn are a must. If you can manage it then have a blog and a YouTube channel.
On your website, link to your social accounts. On your social accounts, link to your website.
Make it EASY for people to find you.
ACTIVELY MAKE CONNECTIONS
Be proactive about linking up with people you want in your network. Follow potential and current clients on Twitter or Facebook or Linked In. Find out what their preferred platform is and connect with them there.
Networking is not a passive sport. Meet, greet, interact!
You should be looking to connect with
- Leaders in your industry
- People you meet at events
DON’T SELL. HELP
The fastest way to kill your network is to sell on the platforms. You don’t like it when you see it so don’t do it to others. Instead look to help. When you see people tweeting or facebooking that they need assistance, provide it if you can. Offer suggestions or guidance.
This helps to brand you as an expert, makes you approachable due to your willingness to communicate and interact, and in your area of expertise you become top of mind for your network.
Always be looking for ways to help others. It really will be the most powerful weapon in your arsenal. This might be as simple as writing LinkedIn recommendations for people you’ve worked with. This is enormously helpful for them.
DON’T BE POPULAR
You are not trying to be the most popular person out there. Where you approach networking with that view, you will struggle. Get into your mind that you are there to learn and to share. Learn from your network and share what you learn.
This is what makes you popular and makes you valuable within your network.
We all know Facebook or Twitter people who always seem to be negative. It drains energy so don’t do it yourself.
Look to be positive. When someone comments or posts negatively about you do not respond angrily. Take a breath, write your response, take a walk and then re-read what you wrote BEFORE you post it. And even when dealing with negativity try to be positive. Sometimes negativity is there to help you learn more about yourself and to grow or expand as a person. Try be objective, take the positive and ignore the blatantly negative.
The way you interact when you are angry or upset will do more to define your brand than what you say when everything is good.
CONNECT OFF LINE
The global nature of social media means you will be connected with people all over the world. However, where possible meet up with people you’ve connected with online.
If you’re travelling to Cape Town or New York, look to meet up with your connections in that area. It’s a wonderful way to strengthen bonds.
Most importantly, be there on social platforms, be you, interact and enjoy the socialness of social.