In a past post on LinkedIn, I mentioned that a future post would be about the very important connection between networking and your personal brand. And then LinkedIn announced a major change to their Company Page feature and I wrote a post about that where I shared some advice about dealing with their often-unexpected changes. Now, here we are, quite a while later, and I’m finally getting to it. Hope this sheds some light and helps you reframe networking as it relates to you and your business.
Networking is an opportunity to market and demonstrate your personal brand
As the Chief Connecting Officer of Bella Domain Media, one of my goals is to teach entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, small business owners and other professionals how to effectively and genuinely connect online and offline. As a self-described networking enthusiast (and some in the media even call me a “networking expert”), I wrote a book titled, I’m at a Networking Event–Now What???: A Guide to Making The Most Out Of Any Networking Event” (Happy About Press), mainly because I know all too well that many entrepreneurs and most business owners dread this vital “marketing” activity.
Truth is, I’m fairly certain I was a somewhat “reluctant networker” at the beginning of my career. But today I believe that beyond self-promotion, networking builds community and creates healthier and stronger business environments. I also believe that networking online and offline is a necessary marketing investment in your own personal brand as well as your business and it never has to be a waste of time. Today, perhaps more than ever, your network has everything to do with your professional net worth and having effective and polished offline and online marketing (aka, networking) skills can play a key role in your success and professional/business development.
Networking as a marketing channel
In her book, Rules For Renegades (McGraw Hill), Christine Comaford said, “Networking is marketing. Marketing yourself, marketing your uniqueness, marketing what you stand for,” and I, most definitely, agree. Years ago, when I first met Christine, and read this quote from her, I knew I had to include it in my book on networking and I did (chapter 7’s title page).
The truth is
It doesn’t matter if you’re focused locally or are looking for opportunities internationally, the most important source of referrals for new business or jobs can usually be found in meeting people face-to-face. Whether you do this by attending local or regional events in your city or flying to industry conferences a few times a year, those in-person connections can help you build your brand very effectively.
In today’s world, we’re lucky that we have both offline and online options for networking. But it’s important to use both if you want to build your brand and maximize your reach.
Social media marketing and social networking
Online, it’s important not to confuse social media marketing with social networking. Social media marketing is much more akin to traditional marketing in that it’s trying to achieve the same thing: sales, leads, interest and buzz.
Social networking, however, is a different animal with different rules and outcomes. While it can be done on many of the same platforms as social media marketing (e.g, LinkedIn, Twitter), for me, social networking is mostly about staying in touch and making connections and also the way I develop and cultivate those connections.
In the distant past, people used a Rolodex and a phone. Then, we gravitated to email as a way to stay in touch. Today, with online social networking tools and activities, you can not only stay in touch with people you meet in person, but you have the ability to create new connections with people you’ll probably never meet face-to-face. And since there is so much more online information available, you can easily research commons interests before meeting with a customer, collaborator, or vendor before you’ve ever met and then have a few conversation starters available at your fingertips.
You can also connect with potential partners and customers from all over the world.
It is important to note the distinction between social media marketing and social networking because both serve a purpose in your brand-building efforts. You just need to be clear about what you get from each tactic.
When engaging in social networking, you need to come at it from a place of generosity and mutual benefit, not a sales angle. Try to present yourself online as you would at an in-person event. You’d never just meet someone for the first time, shove your business card in their face and ask them to buy what you’re selling, would you? While there are some people who do this, it’s not the best way to boost your brand perception. Be human and be consistent online with your brand, just as you would offline.
I also often see people present themselves one way in their website or profile, but they would never be that way in person. Such inconsistency can hurt your brand. You want to authentically present you and your brand online the same way you would if they walked into your store or met you at a meeting or interview.
While it’s true that some industries, such as finance or academia, may require a certain formality due to legal issues or government regulations, for the most part social networking is about presenting yourself as human. After all, YOU are your brand, especially if you’re a solopreneur, consultant or small businesses owner. The idea is to be consistent with the same voice, same values, same style online as well as offline. Of course, use caution: you can’t be overly familiar with someone online whom you don’t know very well. That road typically leads to disaster.
You can use social networking platforms to follow-up on connections you make in-person to help reinforce your brand and demonstrate your commitment to cultivating a relationship. When you meet someone at an event, exchange cards and invite them to connect with you through your social media channel of choice. If you do this, they are more inclined to click-through to your profile and learn more about your business and brand than if you’d sent an email with a website link in it. Make sure you take the time to create a polished profile that reflects your current and future brand. I often tell my clients that resumes are about the past, and they need to cover yours, but I believe it is your profile on LinkedIn (or bio on Twitter), that is about today and the future. It should include information that indicates how you are positioning yourself for the work or opportunities you want to attract or be found for today and in the near future.
Why networking matters
In many circles, there exists a belief that the bigger your network, the more successful you and your brand may be perceived. There is a certain cache to how far-reaching your connections are as well as a perception that a large and high-quality network connotes a certain level of success, and that you have valuable resources available to you to get things done. In recent years, I’ve even seen job postings and contractor opportunities posted where they state that if you don’t have at least 250 connections on LinkedIn you shouldn’t even bother to apply.
Be nice or leave and don’t be shady
Both online as well as offline networking simply reinforces who you are in the world and the way you are in the world as a professional either supports or hurts your brand, whether we’re talking about a personal or business brand. Your social interactions with people via social media or at events need to be polite, kind, thoughtful, and worded with care. Without being intentional and making the time to consistently do this as part of your marketing, you will fall short of your professional goals.
I’m running out of the recommended amount of words for a professional blog post, so if you’d like to read eight tips for achieving offline and online networking bliss, check out my interview in a chapter of the 2nd edition of Branding Basics for Small Business by my good friend (and frequent collaborator) Maria Ross of Red Slice.
Here’s a teaser of the first two tips:
1) Follow up online with offline contacts: When you meet offline, instead of just sending an email, immediately connect with new contacts through online social channels, such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+, etc. And to keep that connection fresh, don’t wait too long to do this; I suggest within 48 hours. If you’re at a conference, as tired as you might be at end of day, it’s smart to send a follow-up as soon as you can so the connection is fresh in both of your minds.
2) Personalize the note: Do NOT send invitations to connect on a social channel without personalizing the message. I cannot emphasize this enough! Say something meaningful or relevant to your conversation or social interaction. Remind them how you met or compliment them on their website or blog. How great is it that we live in an age when it’s so easy to take this opportunity to make that connection deeper? Some social networks, like LinkedIn, require you to have an email to connect. If you don’t have their email, in some cases, you can mark them as a “Friend” but again, make sure you personalize the message and add a P.S. apologizing for using the friend card.
Does your marketing budget include a line for networking expenses/activities? What’s your best success story about a new connection you made via social networking?
I’m the author of I’m at a Networking Event–Now What???, the #1 pick on the Inc.com 2010 Business Book Wish List. As CCO for Bella Domain Media, I share my insights and practical advice as a professional development speaker and trainer, and consultant/coach. This post was inspired by my contribution to a chapter about social networking in the 2nd edition of Branding Basics for Small Business by Maria Ross, which was released April 1, 2014. You can check it out here.Read More
Happy Turkey Day weekend!
If you want to “shop small” this Small Business Saturday and boost your own brand and small business in the process, why not take advantage of my $50 off special offer and allow me to show you how you can effectively market and promote your small biz on LinkedIn?
Why this offer and why now? I was recently grateful and honored to be hand-picked by LinkedIn (their words, not mine) to deliver a presentation on Small Business Marketing on LinkedIn at the event they co-sponsored in Silicon Valley with the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce called, LinkedIn Live.
In honor of Small Business Saturday, it would be my pleasure to provide you (or your peeps) with your very own LinkedIn Live where I share the opportunity-generating tips and tactics I presented there, so I’m knocking $50 off my 2 hr personalized LinkedIn session through Dec 6th.
Just click this (or the image below) to secure your session:
Here’s what a few happy clients had to say:
I’ll be in touch via email to schedule your 2 hr session soon after receiving the payment notification.
I’m looking forward to working with you!
Have a great weekend,
If you’re up for a challenge that will help make all the socializing and networking required around the upcoming holiday season infinitely more enjoyable, watch this video and then share your initial thoughts, comments or experiences in the section below it.
I promise, this will be fun and the video will make you smile! (You know how important smiling is to me!)
Here’s one of the comments we’ve received so far:
Company pages on LinkedIn aren’t just for companies like Cisco, Chase or Facebook. And if you haven’t added a company page for your business on LinkedIn you’re missing out.
When you have a Company Page set up on LinkedIn you can not only share news about and promote your business, you can create a way for those not quite ready to buy your product or service to stay informed without having to commit in any way whatsoever. Followers of your page don’t need to provide their email or “connect” formally. (And, yes, I know many of us want email addresses, but smart people know better than to fall for most email collection tactics).
There are 3 basic steps to get started:
- Create a company profile. Tell your company’s story and give customers, prospects, and job seekers a place to learn about your business, your employees, and your brand.
- Add a Products & Services tab. Catch the eye of prospective customers by featuring products, services, or anything else that would be relevant to your target audience.
- Spotlight customer recommendations. Invite customers to recommend your products or services. Recommendations provide an authentic endorsement, making it easy for prospective customers to feel confident about doing business with you.
Here’s video that covers the basics. Once your page is up you can start developing a “follower” community and begin building valuable relationships that just might translate into new clients if you keep your company page fresh and manage it effectively.
Keeping your page fresh can easily be done by making frequent Status Updates, so here’s a brief video that shows how to utilize Status Updates on your Company Page to share info and increase your visibility with members of your Follower network.
Click here to check out my Company Page for an example and please let me know if you have any questions
or want to take advantage of my Dec ’13 promotion to save $50 on a 2 hr personalized LinkedIn learning session with yours truly. We can focus on your profile, Company Page or even Groups, whatever you’d like.
Here’s the link to secure
the special pricing a personalized Mastering LinkedIn session today!
Wordle is a cool tool for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text you type in or cut and paste into it (your LinkedIn recommendations, for example).
You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share on your website, LinkedIn profile, speaker sites, etc.
I decided to do one on my Speaker recommendations on LinkedIn and one my LinkedIn training recos. Check ‘em out (click to view larger):