Social networking needs a strategy if you want to benefit from it

Accountants, lawyers and bankers often turn up at business networking events, such as those run by a Chamber of Commerce. They grab a drink, pick up a leaflet or two from the exhibition stand and then pretend to read it. Self-consciously they meander around the room until someone more extrovert says “Hello”. Within seconds, the hapless professional hands out a business card and launches into a mini speech on their business.

Sure, I’m being unfair to these professional service people, but you get the picture. Far too many people think that business networking is about turning up, handing out your business cards and then going home. It doesn’t work; no relationship was ever created by handing out business cards – and most business is built on relationships.

The NRG Business Networks organisation does things differently. It arranges lunches in order to help people develop real relationships with fellow business people. At today’s lunch in Reading one of the members was chatting over lunch about a friend of his who had just received significant orders for a new product – billions of pounds worth in fact. But where had those orders come from? From a friend in another business who could sell those products worldwide. It was the relationship that led to the sales, not the product itself.

Few people in business spend enough time developing these relationships. It is even worse online in busy social networking sites. The vast majority of people in social networking sites, like Facebook or Ecademy are “lurkers”. They join and do nothing. They are the same as the accountants and lawyers at Chamber of Commerce meetings who hang around, not talking to anyone, hoping that someone will talk to them. That’s not a strategy – and neither is lurking on social networking sites.

Instead, to build relationships you need to work at it. That means using social networking sites – not just hanging around in them. It also means being yourself. Interestingly, one in three people on social networking sites are pretending. That’s a but like turning up at an NRG Business Networks lunch and handing out false business cards and not really saying anything about yourself at all. It would be unlikely to lead to any business.

So, here’s what to do to ensure that social networking sites help your business. Firstly, treat it as a long term investment – don’t try for quick results. Secondly, be yourself – don’t invent any kind of online persona. Thirdly, take part – just set aside 10 to 30 minutes each day to contribute to the discussions going on in your social networking sites.

In traditional business networking, being yourself and chatting to people are the two single most important things that happen which build relationships. It is no different online. Your business success from social networking sites will not come from any of the gadgets or the advertse. Instead, it will come simply from chatting to people.

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