When my business partner and I quit our jobs to start our own business, one of the unexpected challenges we faced was the lack of a network with which to share ideas. Even those casual chats at the coffee machine were missed.
We turned to social media to fill that gap and found Twitter perfect because, like at a networking event or drinks party, the etiquette is that anyone is welcome to join an existing conversation.
We have successfully used Twitter to grow our network of peers, suppliers and customers and discovered that, just like real world networking, the ‘know, like, trust’ process still applies. It’s just that social media accelerates the process.
Know: Find people to follow
One of the best places to start is with journalists in your sector. Most have a Twitter account. Follow them. Then look at who they are having conversations with.
Those people are also likely to be worth following – either because they are important people in your sector or because they have the ear of journalists. In either case, good people to know.
Next, look for key local contacts, such as local business leaders, large local companies and trade associations. Follow them too.
Like: Old rules, new tools
It’s 60 years old now, but Dale Carnegie’s classic principles from How To Win Friends and Influence People apply just as well in the new world of social media as they did in 1950s America.
Introduce yourself to people you follow. Tell them why you followed them and, ideally, pay them a sincere compliment.
Say hello to new people who follow you and take a quick look at their bio and timeline. What are they talking about? If it’s their cats, ask how they are; if it’s a business trip, recommend your favourite restaurant.
Tweet things of interest to people you want to engage. Look for conversations in your timeline where you can add value. Share your own insights and retweet the insights of others. Make others look good.
To keep the communication flowing, find excuses to get back in touch. Keep an eye on your contacts’ status updates. Even small status changes can give you material with which to start a conversation.
Finally, proactively link people together. Don’t wait for others to ask for an introduction. Review your contact list and look for ways to add value to them.
Trust: Take it offline
When you are ready, start to take your new network into the real world. Most people will be flattered that you want to take the time to meet them face-to-face. Keep it informal. Suggest a catch-up over coffee the next time you are in the area, for instance.
Gradually, try to position yourself at the centre of your new online network. Use industry events to arrange group meet-ups, when many of your contacts are likely to be around.
One of our biggest successes came from organising a real world meet-up (a tweetup) that grew to the point where conference organisers began asking us how they could get involved in our event.
One final thing: Don’t let social media become a drain on your time. Time-box it in a way that works for you. Check it for five minutes every hour for example, while waiting for a train, bus or taxi. Or schedule some time around lunch time or at the end of the day.
Mark Bower is co-founder of social CRM service
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