One of my favorite marketing activities is networking online. Many of my clients engage in this activity as well. But, soon after starting online networking, many people find themselves in a state of overwhelm – so many groups – so little time! First, how do you know which groups are ideal for your business, and second, how do I effectively manage my online networking and avoid becoming overwhelmed with it all?
First, let’s talk about some of the ways that you can networking online. You can participate in online networking groups such as the type you might find at Yahoo, Ryze, or Zaadz. You can also participate in special online events through organizations like WECAI.
It’s important to find networking groups where your niche is hanging out. These are the people that you will be able to help build your business. When you visit sites like Yahoo, do a search on keywords for your niche and see what kinds of groups are out there. For example, if I’m looking for networking groups, I might search on “women entrepreneurs.” Hanging out with your niche will help you gain clients, and it will help you discover what your niche’s needs are as they relate to your business.
You can also join networking groups where your peers congregate. These are great to discuss industry trends, get business questions answered and share ideas. For example, I’m a member of a few groups that are geared toward coaching.
You want to be sure the groups you’re interested in are fairly active. An active group usually has a couple hundred members, and will have at least 15 to 20 messages in a week – some have a lot more than that, but that’s a good number to look for.
When you join a group, spend a few days getting to know what the rules and expectations are. For example, some groups do not allow e-mail signatures, some groups have special days for ads. Also, spend some time reading the discussions and learning about the members.
When you’re ready, post your introduction, and jump into any conversations you feel you’d like to join.
If a group is busy and it seems like the conversations move fast and there are new threads constantly being added, you don’t have to respond to everything. When you visit the online groups, usually there is a message archive that you can browse. All of the threads are usually grouped by topic, so you can choose which discussions you’re interested in following and responding to. It is completely fine to only respond to the threads that you are most interested in. Don’t forget to offer your expertise in discussions where it is warranted. This will help members get to know what you can offer them, and it is a great way to establish yourself as an expert.
Another rule of thumb is to not work a sales pitch into every post you make. That can seem insincere. Save your sales pitch for ad days and for your e-mail signature. The goal of networking in any situation is to build relationships. You may not make sales or get e-zine subscribers the first time you post – and that’s ok. You want the members of the group to get to know you, and you want to get to know them.
Consistency is the key to make online networking work for you. Decide how much time you’re going to devote to this marketing activity and then be consistent. For example, you may decide to visit your online groups three times per week and spend 2 hours responding to posts. Or, you may decide to only visit once per week and spend 3 hours networking. Be organized with your efforts and stick to a schedule. This will make it easier to manage, and it will ensure that you don’t get stuck socializing when you really should be working ;)
In addition to making really great business connections, online networking is a way to make amazing friends and meet fantastic people. Remember, not every single person you meet through networking will become a customer, but they will be a great connection – and you never know where that might lead!