Online Exposure

Ready to start e-networking? Here are five keys to generating online buzz for your biz with word-of-mouth marketing.

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By Ivan Misner

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In my book, The World's Best Known Marketing Secret,which was written in the mid-90s, I discussed the six types ofnetworks in which you should consider participating: casual-contactnetworks, strong-contact networks, professional associations,service clubs, social organizations, and women's businessorganizations. If I were writing that book today, I'ddefinitely add another network that's grown substantially inthe past few years: online networks.

When it comes to online networking, there are several ways todevelop your word-of-mouth marketing, but it's important tounderstand that the foundation of making online networking work foryou is the same as with any kind of networking--you've got todevelop relationships with trusted business associates.

How, then, do you go about developing networking skills,relationships and trust in an online environment? Here are fiveways to do it:

1. Join one or more online networking communities. Ifyou're not sure where to start, I'd recommend Ecademy. No matterwhich community you choose, however, after joining, you need toparticipate in whatever way you can to best grow your presence atthe site.

Keep in mind that it's not enough to just join and have yourname on the membership list. You have to focus on buildingrelationships with the other members of the community. This is anew concept to some; others of you will realize quickly that youcan develop real relationships with people you're meeting incyber space.

So be active in the community. Post topics on threads that dealwith your area of expertise. Respond to others' postings onother threads if the subject is at all relevant to your area ofexpertise. Posting on relevant bulletin boards is a great way togain visibility, which can lead to credibility and eventually newbusiness. And the more you're seen, interacted with and talkedabout, the more visibility you'll gain on the site. One note ofcaution: Don't join too many online networking communities, oryou won't be able to be involved effectively enough to buildrelationships.

Here's another idea: If you're already in a livenetworking group and then join an online networking group, considercreating a regional or national club or a sub-community for themembers of your offline group. This will just expand the amount ofnetworking you can do within your own organization!

2. Start a blog or write a regular column for a website ore-newsletter. Online networking works best when you get plentyof "hits." If you can start a blog (basically an onlinediary) on one of the larger blogger sites or online communities,you'll create more buzz for yourself. As people read yourcontent and become familiar with you, they'll feel like theyknow you and that's integral to the networking process.Becoming an expert in an area and writing regularly about it can goa long way toward building your online networkingopportunities.

3. Develop an e-mail newsletter for your own company.Create an e-mail database of clients, customers and friends, andsend them regular content that drives them to your own website. Besure that your newsletters contain content that has a broadspectrum of interest about your business. You might want toencourage clients and customers to contribute to your content. Indoing this, you'll build stronger relationships with them,which in turn will help you increase the amount of referralsyou'll receive.

4. Never forget that online networking is still aboutdeveloping trust. With online networking, the bottom line isstill the same as with live networking. In order to drive businessto your company by word of mouth, you must focus on developingreal, personal relationships with people. Once you'veestablished that foundation of trust, you'll feel comfortablereferring people--and so will your network. The same hold'strue with online networks, although it may take a bit longer todevelop that trust over the internet.

Although there really are no short cuts, technology has made itsomewhat more convenient to connect with many more people. Thatbeing said, I cannot stress enough that those connectionsaren't terribly valuable if there isn't trust, respect andfriendship being established. One place that teaches that online This website is part ofthe community but is open to coaches andnon-coaches alike. At, they teach peopleabout social capital and networking, and they do it in an onlinecommunity setting.

5. Understand that online networking has its own culturalnorms. It's much easier to get "flamed" onlinethan in face-to-face networking. Let me explain. If you were to aska total stranger to do business with you in a face-to-face setting,it's pretty difficult for the stranger, because of culturalnorms, to respond in an aggressive manner. Mind you, they'restill not likely to feel comfortable with your request, but theyprobably won't act visibly upset.

None of those cultural pretenses exist online, however, andpeople tend to be much more blunt when responding online than in aface-to-face meeting. With online networking, I think that peoplefeel it's easier to be more direct. The problem is that theresponse is also more direct and may come across as aggressive orantagonistic. So be careful whom you approach--build a relationshipbefore you ask for someone's business.

Online networking gives you breadth in your networking efforts.It allows you to broaden your reach to anywhere in the world. Justdon't forget that trust and relationship building are still asimportant as ever.

Ivan Misner

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Bestselling Author

Dr. Ivan Misner is a 'NY Times' bestselling author and co-author of the bestselling book, 'Networking Like a Pro' (Entrepreneur Press 2017). He is also the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer of BNI (, the world's largest referral marketing and networking organization.

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