Six ways to make the most of online networking
Networking is an important part of any small business, and online networking can open up more worlds of opportunity.
You can use social media and dedicated networking platforms to find bring in new customers, share ideas with your peers or even establish yourself as a thought leader and inspiration to others.
Whatever your goal, you can often pursue it through online networking as long as you keep in mind some key lessons.
Decide what you want to achieve
Not all business people enjoy networking but most understand that it is a tool which can bring success, as long as you know what that success looks like.
Online networking, just like networking or any other activity you undertake as part of your business, should be designed to achieve a specific and achievable goal.
You may want to generate business leads, develop better contacts with others in the same industry or even share your own hard-won expertise with others. Your goal or goals will inform which platforms you use, how much you will engage and what you share.
Decide how much time to allocate to online networking
Social media or other networking platforms can quickly draw you in to spending more time than you want or need, distracting you from other important work. This is especially important in a small business, as you probably have multiple roles and a lot of demands on your time.
Similarly, you need to be prepared to commit enough time to your networking to ensure you get the most out of what you are doing.
Deciding on and managing the time you allocate to online networking is crucial to ensuring its success. Make sure you keep some sort of record, especially at the start, so you know how much time you are putting into it.
Identify the best platform or platforms
Depending on what you want to achieve, you need to work out which networking platforms are best for you. Increasingly, this is not an either/or situation, as the different platforms can be used to reinforce each other and you may have more options than you realise.
A good example is LinkedIn, which can be excellent for establishing authority as a thought leader by publishing high quality articles. Posting on LinkedIn will reach many of your colleagues and peers, but you can promote this to an even wider audience on Twitter.
Similarly, if you are working in a visual industry like architecture or design you might use Instagram as your main online networking tool while cross-promoting it on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Learn about the potential pitfalls
Every social media platform has its potential pitfalls, and you need to spend a bit of time reading around and asking others to learn what not to do.
The platforms will have styles and conventions that you should follow to get the best out of them. Always remember that most social media are public, so only publish statements, comments and images which will help you achieve the goals you have decided on.
Make sure you understand the rules of the platform so you don’t end up being ejected or otherwise punished for using the system incorrectly.
Be selective to avoid distraction
It is very easy to disappear down a social media blackhole if you spend time commenting on every last controversy, meme or idea. Keep in mind what you are trying to achieve and focus on interactions which help you.
Anything you do which doesn’t help you to achieve your goals is time wasted.
If your goals mean you need to get involved in complicated online debates then do so, but if that doesn’t serve your purposes then keep your discipline and don’t get dragged in.
Monitor your online networking progress
It’s an old trope of business that you always have to be monitoring how well you are doing, and the same applies to online networking.
You may have obvious metrics for measuring success, such as leads generated, website visits or the number of people in your network. If so, that’s great and keep an eye on those numbers so you can adapt your strategies and tactics if it’s not working.
If you can’t measure your achievements quite so precisely, then come up with some ways of at least assessing your progress. For example, you could note the new connection you have made, and review them each month to see if they are good quality.
The key to success in online networking is knowing what you want to achieve and then accurately identifying how you are going to achieve it. After that make sure you are as informed as possible so you can act appropriately, and always monitor how well you are doing so you can adjust your activity.