In their book Start Your Own Business, the staff of Entrepreneur Media Inc. guides you through the critical steps to starting your business, then supports you in surviving the first three years as a business owner. In this edited excerpt, the authors discuss the essential ways you should start promoting your business on social media.
The days of in-person networking are quickly being overpowered by connecting on the internet. In the past five years, connecting on social networking sites has rocketed from a niche activity into a phenomenon that engages tens of millions of internet users. Now, instead of connecting at an in-person event, you can reach hundreds, even thousands, of potential customers online. Social networking can help you reach new markets and enhance your customer service.
In today’s networking space, it’s important to know how to choose whom to connect with online. There are two different 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 or services. You’ll find seekers in discussion areas, forums, groups and engaging on fan pages.
When searching for quality contacts to network with online, start with connection sites, such as LinkedIn or Xing, and look for high-level networkers (HLN). You’ll know an HLN when you see one; they’re active online, have at least 500 connections and have powerful profiles, which means their profiles are set up 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 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. Simply be transparent, and let them know why you’d like to connect with them online. Whether you’re offering your help, sending them a resource or introducing them to one of your connections, make sure you make it about how you can help them and not how they can help you.
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. In the most basic terms, they’re seeking you. The key is to join in the groups and discussions where your target market is talking and engage with them. You can also send them an invite to connect and let them know you sent them the invite because you have similar interests and you’re looking to expand your professional network. You can also find these groups in sites like LinkedIn. Search for groups that match what you have to contribute and then check to see which have not just the largest member numbers, but also the most active discussions.
Another way to find your target market online 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. Be sure each location makes sense and has a large contingent of people in your targeted market. Searching in your field will often turn up places where your audience goes when they’re looking for something in your industry.
Groups and Discussions
Groups and discussion areas on social sites are all over the internet from LinkedIn and Xing to Twitter and Facebook. Most social networking sites have community areas for people who have similar interests to gather and connect. It’s important to find a dozen or so of these groups and discussion 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. Blogs are quickly becoming places to interact with your target market. Technorati, a site focused on helping people find great blogs and content specific to their industry or topic, 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 that people can search and find you.
Blogs are a great way to find HLNs to connect with online as well as partner with. 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 and content on your site or blog. This not only builds relationships but can expose you to their markets, followers and fans.
With any social media platform, you need to be creative and find ways to provide value and engage your target market. One of the best ways to accomplish this and position yourself as an industry leader is to build and launch a Facebook fan page. Fans are enthusiastic, and if they like what they see and read, they’ll connect with you, become loyal supporters and tell their friends. This is how word-of-mouth will grow.
Once you get your fan page up and running, pay attention to your analytics, or what Facebook calls “Insights.” You can view specific demographic information, such as where your fans are from, their gender and their age. Monitor who’s becoming your fan, how they’re interacting and how often they’re posting. This will help you figure out who and where else you should be targeting online.
One of the main differences between a Facebook profile and a fan page is you can send bulk messages to all your fans. You can also “Suggest to Friends” that they join you on your fan page. It’s a great way to connect with your target market, especially since these are connections that have opted-in to become a part of your community.