Even if you love going out and meeting new people and go to plenty of networking events, if you want to significantly grow your contacts, don't underestimate the power of doing so online, explains Karen Lerner.
If you run a business, or are in a ‘new business development’ role – one of your jobs is to raise awareness and get more people to know about you and your business. Allow more people to know your name, what you do – and why you’re good! So, how can you do this with the magical internet?
What not to do:
The knee jerk answer is “go online and connect with lots of people”. But this can fall flat. “Who is this person?” will be the first thing people say about you! That’s not a good first impression to be making. Even if people accept you being their connection on LinkedIn, or see that you’ve followed them on Twitter and maybe even follow you back – are they a contact? Not really. They’re a tiny millimetre closer, but they are still strangers.
From online to real life!
You have to go about it softly – just like in real life! And the ultimate aim is to move the online meetings to real life ones – real life contacts for business and collaboration with people you like to be around.
Connect with purpose
With business contacts that I happen to find and connect with online, I want to be careful not to be overly salesy! Here in the UK we’re quite subtle so it’s better to get friendly, get people talking and when they confide in you about their terrible situation in whatever it is your business helps with, you can advise and gently offer your services. But initially, you just want to get them on your side – the friendly part!
The connection channels – LinkedIn and Facebook
On LinkedIn and Facebook (personal profiles) the general rule is ‘connect with/make friends with people you have met in real life’.
For business, LinkedIn is really the safest place to be reaching out, but it depends on the business. If someone has a business Facebook page, you can message them there.
There are three things I would advise:
- Do your research: take advantage of the fact that users put up their job and experience details on LinkedIn and learn what you need to know. Read their company blogs and website too, and try to get a good picture of who they are and where they are in their lives.
- Ask your friends: if you’ve researched and come across the public profile of someone you’d like to meet, check who you have in common with that person, and ask your mutual contact for an intro. Be really nice and appreciative and explain why and how you’re planning to add value to the person.
- Always provide value: when you are reaching out and your perceived value is “I have something to sell them and they will like it” it may be too soon to assume they will agree. What else can you give them that won’t at the same time be asking for something? A couple of ideas would be: an invite to an industry event or an article you think they would be interested in, if they have time.
The “open” channels: Twitter and Instagram
On channels like Instagram and Twitter, there should be a purpose to who you choose to follow:
Start by following peers. Think beyond “target clients” and find and follow people who are like you in some way. Other business owners. Other suppliers to the same end client. Other people who are in your industry – even competitors.
Pay attention. Watch what they are posting, and learn from it. What you’re really looking for is a ‘way in’. Just like in a face to face meeting at a party, you hear someone say they’ve been skiing and you say where you’ve been skiing. On social media – in a professional sense, you have permission to jump in with a reply/comment where you agree with someone or add your own take.
Keep track. Keep looking at persons of interest. If they post often enough for you to see them, and you have something in common with them, then this will give you more seeds of potential. You can occasionally click like and share, or comment, and this is actually one of the main reasons people go on social media – they want to be noticed! Over time, they will see you as someone more familiar.
The next steps
Meeting online is very common but it can feel a bit impersonal. However, this is not supposed to feel difficult – so what happens next will feel natural. Use your best judgement to decide when the right time is to swoop in – and ask them for a meeting! By this point they may just shrug and go – why not, they’ve been nice to me!