5 Misplaced Social Networking Fears Networking is changing, so stay ahead of the curve with these tips.

By Starr Hall

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Web 2.0 /Social Networking--To connect with large groups of people or businesses online to market and grow your business as well as your personal network.

Traditional Networking--To connect with a handful of people or a few businesses at an event or gathering.

With all of the online networks and business building tools available, one begins to wonder why more businesses have not embraced the internet as a networking tool. I am not referring to having a business website; I'm talking about reaching out to hundreds, possibly thousands of potential new customers by joining the conversation online.

The growth of social networking makes me wonder why business owners haven't embraced the trend. I started several discussions online and informally surveyed businesses owners and marketing directors in person as to why they don't use social networking to expand their business. Here are the top five responses:

  1. Stuck in Traditional Networking Mode. Change is not easy for some businesses, especially if they are firmly set in the habit of attending chamber mixers and industry events. Too often businesses are stuck doing the same thing they have always done or what the industry has always practiced. As the saying goes, if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. That doesn't mean you stop doing the traditional stuff--you just need to add to it.

    Tip: Try to incorporate at least one new technique or online marketing outreach into your marketing plan monthly. Set up a LinkedIn profile or a blog on your company website. Try something simple, such as posting a question or answer in a group forum. Give it some time to see if this works before deleting the profile or conversation.
  2. Too Many Choices/Too Overwhelming. This answer was very common among not only small businesses and entrepreneurs but with larger corporations as well. Business owners unfamiliar with social networking find this new tool daunting. Technology changes rapidly, and some entrepreneurs feel lost sifting through it all.

    Tip: Do an online search for the top social networking sites specific to your market, region or industry and only focus on those sites. Ignore the others, they don't matter unless they can directly connect you with new contacts in your target market. For example: If you don't target teenagers, music, entertainment or fashion markets, then you don't need a MySpace.
  3. Concerned Social Networking Is Not Effective. Your time is valuable; many business owners question whether social networking is worth the effort. You'll never know if it's a waste of time if you're not willing to try. Let me clarify, try does not mean setting up a Twitter account and letting it sit for four months. Online marketing and social networking are only as effective as you are. If you aren't efficient with your time and techniques online then you might be disappointed with the results, or lack thereof.

    Tip: Posts about how many times your daughter took a nap on a particular day or about your coffee preferences shouldn't be the key communication goals for your business. Though it is important to add a personal touch to your interactions online. Your main focus should be reaching new contacts and connecting with them; This is how you're going to build your brand recognition and exposure. One of the best ways to do this is to blog; just be sure to provide valuable content to your potential customer or client. Make sure to respond to e-mails and comments when they land on your blog or site.
  4. Fear of Doing Something Wrong Online. The potential to misstep, whether networking traditionally or online, is always present. Try to view "mistakes" as opportunities for breakthroughs. I posted something in a group chat room once and was chastised by a few members because it was posted incorrectly. My reply was sincere and catchy, yet professional, and I actually ended up getting a new client.

    Tip: If you're worried about making a mistake online, post your concern. Let the group or site know that you're new and ask for support or feedback. For the most part, you'll learn that people online want to help you with your social networking experience. You may also come across people who offer unwanted advice or feedback. The response should be the same as in person; thank them and move on.
  5. Lack of Privacy Online. This is a valid concern, but it shouldn't stop you from engaging in conversations online. There are many privacy settings for the top professional sites. You can decide whom to allow into your network, set up filters and e-mail notifications and even block people with whom you don't want to connect.

    Tip: Read the privacy settings thoroughly on social networking sites that you use. Vet invitations carefully; you don't want to shut out potential new clients or customers. This is when you follow your intuition: You can usually tell whether a person is sincere, professional and worth connecting with simply by checking his or her profile. Verify the person's website and references before connecting with someone you don't have a relationship with already. To save time, include a quick note on your profile about the type of connections and invites you want. Again, it's just like meeting someone new in person. As soon as an individual enters your space, if you are turned off by his or her energy, walk away.

Still apprehensive? Lesley Spencer Pyle gives you four reasons social networking is worth your time .

Starr Hall is a social media strategist, international author and speaker and Associate Partner- Search & Media with Level, A Rosetta Company

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