It can be easy to become "friends" or "connected" with someone in a digital world, but it requires thought and strategy to convert social media connections into rewarding business relationships. As a business owner, what's the sense in having droves of followers and connections if you aren't able to turn them into paying customers?
Here are five steps to turning your online relationships into real world success:
1. Take an active interest.
There's a big difference between adding a new connection to your social media account and actually getting to know someone. Taking an active interest means being proactive about reading the profile of a new contact and his or her recent posts. Make sure to read the person's blog -- if he or she has one -- and watch and comment on videos the person has shared.
Related: 5 Ways to Be a Better Leader Online
It amazes me how so few people take the time to do this. Knowing more about your contacts can put you in a better position to add value to the relationship since you'll already know more about what the person does and what his or her interests are.
Knowing this type of personal information can be critical when sparking conversation for in-person meetings. You can come up with interesting questions and conversation topics before getting together.
2. Add value.
"How can I add value to this relationship?" That should be the first question that crosses your mind when making a new connection -- whether online or in person.
Unfortunately, most people think the exact opposite by asking themselves, "What can this relationship offer me?" That outlook generally produces the least amount of results. The more I connect people to opportunities and to other members within my network the more my business grows.
3. Create opportunities to connect offline.
You've probably heard the saying, "People want to do business with people they know, like and trust." But how will someone know if they like you, if they haven't met you?
As a business owner who is looking to market his or her company, you should be on the lookout for opportunities to get face time with movers and shakers in your network. Here are a few examples of how you can get started:
- Host a meet-up at a local restaurant whenever you travel for business. You can easily do this via Facebook, but even a simple group email can work, too.
- Attend events featuring people from your network as guest speakers. Let them know ahead of time that you'd like to meet up and introduce yourself.
- Set up one or two meetings over coffee each week with new people in your network.
4. Use tools to help organize your meetings with contacts.
The difficulty with growing a powerful business network is trying to stay connected with successful people who are busy making big things happen. That's why I rely on tools and apps to help schedule and keep my meetings organized.
One example is the free iPhone app OverNear. It acts as my social planner, notifying me of opportunities to connect live with members from my inner circle in real time. If I'm at a conference or a networking event, OverNear can let me know if anyone from my professional network is also there, or perhaps near the location of the event. It also allows me and my contacts to share future plans so we never find ourselves saying "I was there, too. We should have met up."
The people and opportunities your business needs are out there, but the only way to uncover them is to take an active role in bringing your social network to life.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.