Online networking is nothing new. In fact, if you’re not already doing it in some form, you’re likely behind the curve.
Today, small businesses are challenged with finding new, innovative ways to leverage tools like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to communicate with customers and prospective customers.
We spoke with small business owners to discover five creative ways to get the most from online networking.
1. Send personalized tweets.
Kayvan Mott, vice president of marketing/advertising for Infinite Communications in Sherman Oaks, Calif., uses Twitter daily to communicate with marketing experts, authors and journalists. But instead of broadcasting generic messages, he spends 10–15 minutes researching the individual’s latest Twitter updates and interactions. “That way, I can initiate the contact with a tweet that is thoughtful and sincere with a high probability that they will respond to me,” he says.
2. Take Twitter networking offline.
Ashley Albert, of the New York indie-rock band The Jimmies, took Twitter networking to the next level—and started a side business at the same time. Albert, co-founder of Survival of the Hippest, creates Twitter ID jewelry to help Twitter users identify themselves with existing followers at in-person events, as well as garner new followers. And of course, she’s using the jewelry pieces to promote her band’s own Twitter presence.
3. Use LinkedIn like a phonebook.
Carolyn Ziel, founder of Essential Selling in Los Angeles, has leveraged LinkedIn for several years to build contacts for her recruiting business. “I use it like a phonebook,” she explains. “I do a search for certain types of employees at a specific company, and then call the company to reach them.”
4. Network selectively on Facebook.
When Devin James, founder of the Devin James Group, a Memphis-based strategic brand communications and marketing agency, set up a Facebook page for his firm, he took a different approach than most businesses. “Instead of accepting every friend request, I selected only people who were qualified to do business with me,” he says. He then created a private group of about 100 users called “Facebook Thought Leaders.” “Once the group was alive and well, I developed a series of discussions that positioned me as the ‘expert,’” he says. Today, members of the private group serve as brand ambassadors for James’ firm.
5. Provide value through blog commenting.
Kari DePhillips, of The Content Factory in Pittsburgh, comments on blog posts as part of her online networking efforts, but she’s selective in doing so. First, she targets posts with high search engine rankings by conducting a blog search for relevant terms and commenting on the most highly ranked. Next, she posts comments that provide value. “‘Great post!’ is not an example of a valuable comment,” she says. “It’s a way of becoming acquainted with vocal players in your industry, and it’s a great way of getting high-quality backlinks to your site, which helps your SEO value.”