How Entrepreneurs Can Capitalize on Weak Connections

You know those social media followers you've never actually met? Don't dump them. They might come in handy.
How Entrepreneurs Can Capitalize on Weak Connections
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We all have social media friends and followers that we didn’t grow up with, go to school with or ever work with; yet we still keep them on our lists. Most people do nothing with these "weak contacts." They become like an online Rolodex of people we don’t really know and do nothing with.

Related: Why Cultivating Relationships -- Not Sales -- Will Increase Your Profits

Yet, if utilized properly, these weak connections can be powerful referral partners or even direct clients in our shared vision, even if we consider them to be merely auxiliary characters in our lives.

A recent John Hopkins study found that only one in every six new jobs that study participants reported had been found through strong connections, such as friends, co-workers or family members. The other 83 percent originated from those "weak ties" connections.

While those people may not have been as motivated by social bonds to help the job-seekers, those flimsy connections still paid off because those weak connections offered access to the right information at the right time, and gladly shared it.

This makes sense -- who doesn’t enjoy being “in the know” and letting others in on their insider information? That’s why LinkedIn connections, Facebook friends and Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram followers we've never actually met nonetheless quietly keep tabs on us and in turn may become our companies' biggest allies.

Six degrees of association

Even if your online acquaintances don’t seem likely to become direct clients of yours right now, they could still be great people to build relationships with. They might not be ready to bend over backwards for you today, but their situations might change at some point down the road.

If they come to feel that they know, like and trust you, the next time they are in the market for your product or services, you will be the one they call. What’s more, as seen in the study mentioned above, simply possessing information can motivate people to take action. So, if you do a good job of positioning yourself as a trusted resource, they may just recommend your business to somebody who’s looking for exactly what you’re offering.

The following are three strategies for strengthening your broad network of all those loose connections of yours.

1. Seek out "centers of influence."

Here’s an example of what I mean here: Let’s say you’re a financial advisor. To find affluent clients, you would be wise to appeal to the people they do business with -- the centers of influence in their lives, such as estate attorneys -- instead of directly targeting wealthy folks.

According to a report from Cogent Research, 90 percent of high net worth individuals use social media, and 73 percent spend time on LinkedIn alone. If you can forge indirect connections with those people, you’re more likely to be discovered and contacted by them.

So, don’t just send unsolicited requests. Get involved by commenting on and sharing their posts, articles or other content. Several of our clients have had success with structured referral programs that reward people for connecting you with their connections. In this way, you can work your way into solid relationships that produce valuable second- and third-level connections.

Related: 3 Ways to Boost Word of Mouth and Referrals for Your Business

2. Bridge the gap between virtual and real. 

Just connecting with people online isn’t enough to positively affect your business. You need to transition to real-world conversations. Whether via phone calls, video chats or face-to-face meetings over coffee, you should bring yourself, your business and your brand into the real world of your new connections.

A client of ours, Remission Consulting, and its leaders had struggled to gain traction with their initial strategy of pushing promotional content out to all online connections. However, the nurturing process really took off (and paid off) once those leaders started sharing high-quality content through targeted, one-on-one messaging. The messaging relayed an understanding of Remission's prospective clients’ issues and the ways the consultant could help solve them.

One prospect who found Remission through this sharing of content hired the firm for an $8,000 keynote speech and then signed on for a five-figure, high-level contract. Remission needed only weeks to establish the kind of rapport with this prospect that in the past had taken 18 months to develop.

Turning such online interactions into real-world conversations requires a decent amount of work, but building out relationships with weak connections can yield long-term results, in the form of repeat business, referrals and new clients, for years to come. But you have to lay the groundwork and make it personal first -- those weak connections won’t refer you to others just because you’re “friends” online.

3. Remarket the impressions you’ve made. 

After catching up with connections in the real world, you might find they’re not a great fit for your services directly. But if they have expressed interest in referring some of their clients, you need to design a system for staying in front of them.

One good way is to use a classic drip campaign method, which has been found to boost open rates by 80 percent. But instead of using email, which is a wasteland of unread messages, consider LinkedIn as a way to keep in touch. After all, LinkedIn messages have been found to have a response rate 11 times greater than that obtained with other methods.

Related Book: Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn for Business by Ted Prodromou

No matter which platform you’re comfortable with, make sure you aren’t just trying to pitch your products and services. Nothing will damage a relationship faster than being “that guy.” Instead of pitching, you should be providing value, building credibility and building awareness as somebody they can trust. This is what leads to many more referrals and opportunities down the road.

One way to do this is to send out regular communications, such as personal, behind-the-scenes style updates that show what’s going on in your business, to foster trust and camaraderie with a customized approach. Do this every few weeks so that your connections don’t forget about you. Staying top of mind with weak connections will generate more referrals. Just make sure you do it in an informal way so they feel like they’re just getting to know you.

While these tips have focused on social media connections, the same concepts can be applied throughout your networks, both online and off. By frequently touching base and sharing content that you know your connections will find interesting -- and not press releases about your company -- you can turn even the weakest connection into one of your most devoted brand advocates.