Making Social Networking Work For Your Business

Why do we need social networking anyway?

Communications have changed in a very short space of time. Could you honestly part with your mobile phone? Or your broadband? Probably not, but 25 years ago you didn’t have them. Many shops and services have closed in favour of online or worse, overseas call centres so people like me, self employed and working at home don’t meet many of our clients face to face therefore we have to network to gain clients. With business networking each of us knows an average of 200 people and each of those knows another 200. Any business networker knows that networking works better than advertising because it based on building trust slowly so in this respect, social networking is not the same as business networking but word of mouth and the ability to connect and establish contacts does ring true for both business and social networking

With social networking the potential for new contacts is even greater but as with business networking this takes time. Even allowing for overlap between social networks, I have well over a thousand contacts, that is roughly 400 friends on facebook, 500 followers on Twitter and 500 connections on Linked In.

Social networking platforms aren’t necessarily one size fits all, in other words one may suit you better than another, although some basic rules work across the social networking spectrum to a degree. First of all understanding what each one does before working out how to use it to your advantage is vital, so concentrate on one at a time and see what works best for you and what you feel comfortable with. Social Networking if used wisely is a very powerful and effective free marketing tool and the more you get involved the higher you will go on the Google rankings so you cannot fail to win business.

Someone offering a useful business service such as accounting or will writing would not benefit from a visual social network so the contacts that can be gained from Linked In are much more useful to them . A florist or a graphic designer would find a visual platform like Pinterest more useful. My business offers a personal service so being interactive is most useful to me and it is also visual as travel photography can entice clients to book beautiful locations so I can get some benefit from using both although Facebook has so far worked best for me as a means of gaining business

Search me on Google and you will find me on the first page on Linked in, Travel Counsellors, Twitter, Facebook and 4BN in that order and on the second page WIBN and  Flickr and that is without spending any money on advertising. Even with an uncommon name that’s quite impressive

Facebook is interactive and conversational and a great tool for interacting with people from your past from schooldays to previous work colleagues and it is particularly useful for communicating with overseas friends across time zones.  It is also useful for setting meetings and events and looking for other networking opportunities

I “chatted” with an old friend who moved many years ago. We had lost touch and she found me on Facebook. She booked a holiday with me. An ex work colleague who now has a family and no longer lives in London also booked her family holiday with me.  Another example of business gained from Facebook and a good example of third party networking was a friend of a friend asking for advice on buying rail tickets. Two of our mutual friends both recommended me so he added me as a friend and as a result he is now a new friend and a valuable client. I am getting a regular business travel contract from him and since he recommended me on facebook, I have since got some leisure travel bookings from his contacts as well.

This morning this customer testimonial came through so it went straight on facebook

Very quick and efficient  and she’s saved me money! I recommend her all the time – Suzy

Now if I said myself on facebook that I am very quick and efficient and I can even save you money, the same message wouldn’t be as convincing as this very short and very powerful message from a genuine customer.

Facebook also offers the opportunity to set up a business page. Mine is called Travel Counsellors Notting Hill and I put all sorts of offers on it and things that are purely travel related and would be of no interest to most of my friends. People who are interested in my business page press the Like page and my offers will appear on their newsfeed

Twitter works differently for everybody and it is surprisingly versatile. I use it firstly as a newsfeed, to find Tweets that catch my eye. I use it to pass on newsfeed gained from other sources that may be of interest to my followers, sometimes it is serious news, sometimes bits of trivia, sometimes a thought for the day, Sometimes simply describing what I’m doing. It is useful for thanking somebody for a service and it is often the quickest way of communicating with those people you cannot get through to on the phone.

Each Tweet can only be a maximum of 140 words but you can attach a photo or a link to a particularly interesting article. If you post frequently and look at the suggestions of people you should follow, many are relevant and you should follow them. If you find they are too boring, post too frequently for your liking or you never read their posts simply unfollow them. It is also a good idea to follow people who follow you unless of course they are Sexy Susan looking for business in which case you can block them and they won’t bother you. Don’t be spooked by this, they are not interested in you and you have simply been targeted at random, just think of it as a modern day calling card in a phone box

Complain on Twitter using the @ key and they will soon contact you. A colleague recently tried to contact Monarch, gave up and mentioned this on Twitter and they quickly replied but couldn’t address her issue, but I picked up on this and managed to answer her query, another example of good use of Twitter. A networking and Twitter contact needed to sell some tickets in Edinburgh and posted a tweet. Even though I am in London, I picked up on this and suggested somebody who I thought might be interested so you never know where a Tweet will lead.

Linked In is purely for business and will definitely help with your Google rankings. It was set up on the principle of being linked with every sixth person in the world. I don’t use Linked In as much as I should but it is essential for business contacts. I have many old clients that have moved on and changed jobs and Linked In is often the right place to find them and reconnect with them. I found a client who booked as a student five years ago and I have managed to contact him.

Flickr only has limited use as a social network but is is useful for storing photos and sharing them as a link. You are not allowed to advertise on Flickr so any attempt at advertising has to be subtle. I do tag my holiday and event pictures with Travel Counsellors and feed them into my blog so that all helps to raise search engine profile.

It took a long time for me to understand Pinterest and this was because my approach was wrong. I picked a lot of random interests and have never filled the boxes.First of all it is a cross between photo sharing and sharing of interests. Think about your favourite photos and how to make them sound interesting with a short description. Think about putting these photos in a box and what you might label the box if you had a gallery. For instance it is not worth calling it Spain because that’s boring, but if you called it Fiery Flamenco it might arouse some curiosity and people would want to find out what is inside the box. The descriptions do not restrict advertising so you can have a picture of a bouquet, a hairstyle, an event and advertise your services. There are always some beautiful pictures and interesting infographics which I can repin which means that I can refer to them myself, feed it to Facebook and widen the audience.

If you want to use social networking as a business tool, certain basic rules apply whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest or Linked In or any other network.

1.Keep it reasonably professional but also keep it fun – friendly banter is fine, happy thoughts are fine, birthday wishes are fine, thank you goes a long way, feel free to like, congratulate, praise and support.

2. Consider setting up a business page as well as a personal page – this way your friends will be less offended or bored by your advertising

3. Don’t be too negative and more importantly get the point across without ranting or swearing – Ranting and negativity almost always causes offence. I have struck friends off for persistently ranting about their boss, ex-husband etc. A short negative message is sometimes necessary to prompt your friends to share the message and empathise eg the death or illness of a friend or family member, equally keep reply messages of sympathy supportive but short.

4. Never write a passage of text all in capital letters – this looks like spam even if it isn’t

5. Think outside the box and keep looking for opportunities, keep reading between the lines for example a friend of friend is getting married. Do they want to book a honeymoon, do they need flowers, photographs etc.

6. Cross Network – feed Twitter into Linked In, Flickr into a blog, a blog into Twitter and vv

7. Don’t forward spam – I have struck many friends off simply because I sick to death of reading about Like if you agree with blah, blah, blah, like if you’re a mom, help me with Farmville etc. I know people who only do this and nothing else. Have they nothing to say?

8. Never be abusive and don’t swear. I have also struck friends off for persistently swearing. Even if it is only a personal page it is still offensive

9. Think before you write – who will read it? Will it offend somebody? Will it open up a can of worms? Could you get the sack over what you have written? Are you broadcasting information that should be kept secret or secure?  If the answer to any of these is yes, don’t write it

10 Keep updating your profile

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