Over the past five years, connecting on social networking sites has rocketed from a niche activity into a phenomenon that engages millions of Internet users. In fact, “member communities” are now visited by more than two-thirds (67 percent) of the global online population, including social networks and blogs, according to The Nielsen Company, a global research firm.
In today's networking space, you need to be efficient with your time and even more effective with whom you choose to connect with. There are two types of networkers online: the posters and the seekers. Your business is a poster, which means you actively post valuable information, resources, tips and offers. The seekers are your customers. They're actively seeking your products and/or services. You'll find seekers in discussion areas, forums, groups and engaging on fan pages.
Connecting with these seekers is a vital element to your small business's overall marketing plan. Here are three ways to connect with them.
Finding the 'High-Level Networker'
The top three social sites to first consider are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Xing, a business networking for professionals, is another. These sites are massive online communities filled with potential high-level networkers. To get started, set up your profile and navigate to get familiar with the sites' offerings.
When searching for quality contacts to network with online, you'll want to look for high-level networkers (HLN). They're active online, have at least 500 connections and have filled out their profiles completely. Make sure these contacts have at least one of the three criteria before you connect with them online.
Some examples of HLNs would be decision makers, executives, the media and people you know as the movers and shakers in your industry. Don't let the fact that you don't yet know the person hold you back from sending an invite to connect. Whether you're offering help, sending them a resource, or introducing them to one of your connections, make sure your invite is about how you can help them, not how they can help you.
Target Your Connections
Target market connections (TMC) are a group of consumers at which your company aims its products and services. They're found by using keywords in the search section on social sites as well as in groups and discussion areas in your area of interest or focus. TMCs are mostly seekers that chat and seek out information by posting questions online.
The key is to join the groups and discussions where your target market is talking and engage with them. You can also send them an invite to connect. Make sure to let them know that you sent them the invite because you have similar interests and you're looking to expand your professional network.
Another way to find your target market is to investigate competitors' marketing methods. See where another business that offers the same or similar products and services advertises their links and posts on social sites. Searching in your field will often turn up places where your audience goes when they're looking for something in your industry.
Engage in Groups and Discussions
Even the most unsociable entrepreneur can interact on message boards and blogs. Groups and discussion areas on social sites are all over the internet and social media sites. It's important to find a dozen or so of these areas and not only join and monitor them but engage in the conversations as well.
Blogs are another type of discussion forum on the internet. A blog isn't just a type of website; it's quickly becoming a place to interact with your target market. Technorati, a site focused on helping people find great blogs and content specific to their industry or topic, was recently ranked as the fifth-largest social media site by comScore, an internet market research company. Technorati manages a list of the top 100 blogs, which is a great place to find the world's most popular blogs on subjects you're interested in. Not only can you find connections and blogs on this site, but you can also list your own blog so people can search and find you.
Blogs are a great way to find HLNs to connect and partner with online. For example, if you're a restaurant, you could connect with food and review writers, vendors that are blogging or food enthusiasts and share their posts on your site or blog. This not only builds relationships but can expose you to their markets, followers and fans.