There’s a lot of buzz surrounding social networks these days and companies have been quick to get in on the action by establishing profiles on these Web sites to promote their products and services. While social networks can indeed be great vehicles for business, it’s important to know which networks are worth your time and how to take advantage of their various features.
The first step is to identify the social networks that will give you the proper tools and context for promoting your business. Start with business-centric sites such as LinkedIn, Spoke, and Ryze that have features especially designed for connecting with potential colleagues and clients. In general, business networking sites let you search for contacts in your field, create online address books, and participate in forums, for example.
While personal networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook get a lot of attention, they aren’t really geared toward business promotion. It can be difficult to find business leads on personal networking sites because you can only search for contacts that are within two degrees of separation: your friends or their friends. Furthermore, people don’t usually sign up to these sites to do business. Your friends’ friends may not be very happy to receive promotional messages from you through their Facebook page.
Fortunately there are a number of both general and industry-specific networking sites available to you. It’s worth doing some research to see if there are any networks that cater to your type of business. For instance, there are specific sites for marketing professionals and IT professionals, among many other sectors. These sites let you share knowledge and industry tips, connect with people in your field, and find jobs and potential employees.
Business sites such as LinkedIn allow you make contacts in a large range of industries and promote your products and services.
Once you’ve selected the networks you want to belong to, begin by filling out your profile page with pertinent information about yourself, your company, and your contacts. Establish your expertise and make sure to include a link to your company Web site and blog. It’s also a good idea to be clear about why you are joining the network and what you hope to achieve by participating in the community.
If you have colleagues or clients who are members of the network, ask them to write a recommendation for you, and do the same for them. You want to show that you are an active member of the community who is not just there to receive praise; you can also hand it out when merited. From there you target contacts to request an introduction or send a note familiarizing them with your business. Be careful to stick with the proper communication guidelines of asking for introductions through your own network of contacts or approaching people who have expressed a clear interest in learning about your business. After all, sending out batches of unsolicited communications can only be described as one thing: spam.
In addition to targeting individuals, joining groups is another great way to make new contacts. Most sites have groups dedicated to a number of topics and industries. Join as many as you can that pertain to you, and remember to participate in forum discussions. These discussions give you yet another avenue for displaying your expertise.
Finally, take advantage of the widgets that networking sites offer. There are widgets that allow you to add virtual fliers and brochures to your page, plug in company news and events, and post videos, for instance.
But whatever you do, remember that you are joining communities of people and rules of etiquette still apply. Promote your company by all means, but don’t be overly aggressive or invasive about your marketing. Market your business well and you’ll get more respect and probably a lot more serious leads.