First impressions are lasting impressions -- even online. Networking is an essential aspect of business in person and through social media. Whether you know it or not, your clients and customers judge you on your website, blog and by what you post on social media sites.
Social networks including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are exceptional avenues to meet potential clients, customers and socialize with professional colleagues. Regardless of which social media sites you utilize, all will go a long way toward growing your professional network.
Here's some advice on how to use each site:
Facebook is an effective tool for those who wish to stay in touch with friends, family members and colleagues, but it’s also a great place to exchange ideas and share opinions. For example, whenever I need help solving an unusual etiquette dilemma, I pose a question on Facebook and my friends and followers happily give me their opinions.
Facebook is a great place to promote your professional brand. I use Facebook to post informative articles, follow trends, and connect with my audience on a more personal level. Photos are also strategic way to personalize your brand; however, keep in mind that anyone can view the pictures you post to Facebook. Similarly, exercise some restraint when you post updates to your wall. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t post on the front page of your local newspaper. Use discretion when you decide to share what you’re doing, thinking or feeling. Or adjust your privacy settings if you want to keep your posts or pictures private.
Twitter is valuable because it allows you to tap into a community of people from around the world who share similar interests. Join the conversation and connect with people you know and whom you’d like to know. Look for opportunities to share your ideas, opinions and interests with people you respect professionally.
Twitter connects strangers and friends alike. For example, if you’re about to head off to an industry conference, search Twitter for the associated hashtag. Discover which of your colleagues will be there as well. Introduce yourself to new contacts you want to meet and reconnect with old acquaintances. Use the opportunity to coordinate when you’ll be able to meet with people for breakfast, coffee or dinner.
Drive traffic to your website through the promotion of your own content. Share advice, ask questions, and stay informed about trends in your industry. Re-tweet someone’s post if it's informative, entertaining or relevant. Twitter is also a great social tool to introduce yourself to someone who might not otherwise follow you on Facebook or LinkedIn.
You can profit immensely from the use of LinkedIn as a professional networking tool to grow your business. Update your profile with your career accomplishments, company information and education. Remember to keep your information up-to-date so your connections will be able to track your progress and support your accomplishments. LinkedIn is also a great place to share articles, join professional networking groups, and exchange ideas with others.
Connect with people you know and trust. Only endorse individuals you would refer to a client, colleague or friend. This will protect your reputation and grant credibility to the recommendations you make.
When you request a connection, write a personal note in lieu of the template greeting. Remind the person who you are and how you know each other. To make an introduction, write a note to each individual and explain why you think they should collaborate.
Bonus: Your website
The majority of people research companies and individuals online before they ever contact them. Though your website may not be as “social” as some of your social networking profiles, it’s just as critical. The best websites and blogs are timely, informative and entertaining.
To make the best impression, ensure your website reflects your business, industry and brand. The information you provide on your site should be credible and brand you as a reliable source. The more user-friendly the website, the easier it is for visitors to find what they need. Finally, keep your website up-to-date and include content that’s relevant to your customers.
Display your contact information -- including your email address -- prominently as well as links to your social media profiles. This will help you connect with potential customers and other professionals through multiple channels.
Finally, you know your social media efforts are working when a person says, "I feel like I know you even though we've never met in person."