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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: The Beginner's Guide to Social Networking

Connecting Is Not Enough with Andy Lopata

With the growth in popularity of social networks, UK business networking strategist Andy Lopata shares ten tips to help any social networking newbie generate powerful results from a new life online.

Andy will look at:

- How to make sense of the vast choice of social networks, and find the one that's right for you

- How to overcome fears about your security online

- Why engagement is so important, and broadcasters inevitably fail.

In October 2008, participation in social networks online overtook visits to pornography sites* and their prominence continues to grow, as does the number of networks we have to choose from. In September 2010 50% of all UK internet users reported being active on social networks**.

However, many businesses and individuals still struggle to recognise why they should participate online, what relevance social networks have to them and worry about the negative aspects of social networks they read in the newspapers. With the high level of interaction elsewhere, there is a strong possibility that people who don’t grasp the power of social networks soon will be left behind.

This possibility becomes even stronger when you realise that over the last year the percentage of active 18-24-year-old users has grown from 73% to 75%**. This is the next generation of entrepreneurs and company managers, a generation who will expect to interact online as well as face-to-face.

Here are ten simple things to think about before you join a social network, which will help you use them effectively, productively and securely.

1. Why do you want to join a social network?

The first thing to look at before joining any social network is why you want to be there in the first place. What do you want to achieve and how will that particular network help you meet those objectives? This article might help you understand how to choose the right network for you.

I use different social networks for different reasons. For example, Twitter is primarily to engage regularly with my network and help people in my wider network understand more about what I do and who I do it for. It also helps people find out more about me before connecting, and see easily what other people say about me.

LinkedIn helps me track the connections in my network and generate referrals. Ecademy Blackstar members offer me support and advice.

Understanding your objectives helps you to cut through the baffling range of functionality on offer and focus on what is important, and relevant, to you.

2. To what do you need to commit to get results?

Just joining a social network won’t be enough, you need to be willing to participate, engage and be there for others. Be proactive, don’t just sit back and wait for things to happen.

How much time do you need to spend online? You might be surprised how little time you actually need to spend on social networking sites, particularly if your objectives are clear. It is far more effective to target your activity and engage in a focused way than spend too much time online, making a lot of noise but very little progress. If you spend too much time online people in your network will start wondering why you have so much time on your hands!

You do need to have a reasonable level of involvement however. Just putting up a profile and automatically sending content to all social networks will not be effective. Success on social networks is about the quality of your participation, not just presence.

3. Commit to being social

This is possibly the number one rule of social networking. It’s too easy to see sites like Facebook and Twitter as an opportunity to tell everyone what they can buy from you. But just like any networking event, most people haven’t logged in to buy. They want to engage in conversation and discussion, they want support and ideas, and they want to promote their own business or career.

Use social media wisely by developing relationships with people in your network, meeting new people and keeping in touch with old friends and colleagues. Show an interest in what they are doing, support them when they ask and share what they do with the rest of your network. They will then want to do the same for you.

If you engage effectively and show a constant interest in others, your online connections will be receptive when you do have something to share with them about your business or your needs. And they’ll be far more likely to respond and support you.

4. Protect your privacy

Fuelled, no doubt, by scaremongering in the mainstream media, many people shy away from social networks because of fears over their privacy. Not that such fears are unfounded. I’ve heard of websites that feature Facebook users who have publicised both their address and their absence from home, for example. And the grooming of children on social networks has been big news recently.

For a business person, however, many of these fears can be allayed with a certain amount of common sense. Don’t share any sensitive information on such sites. Check the privacy settings on each network you belong to and restrict who can see certain information. And let your friends and colleagues know where your boundaries are, asking them not to share anything that would be embarrassing or sensitive in any other way.

Many people are worried about sharing their network on LinkedIn with people who may start pitching those people. For me the answer is simple, don’t connect with people you don’t trust! The solution is often in your own hands.

5. What do you want your profile to say about you?

Spend some time getting your profile right. Don’t just write the first thing that comes to your mind. Instead, put yourself in other people's shoes. Knowing your objectives from membership, what do you need them to read to engage with them and for them to be in a position to help you?

Most people like to read profiles written in the first person, where they feel they are interactive with a human being, not a cold biography. And include a warm, yet professional, photograph, to engage people further.

Also include links to which people can go to find out more about your business, such as your website, blog and other social media profiles.

6. To whom do you want to connect?

As you start using a social network, have a strategy for connecting with people. This should fit with your goals for the network. For example, if you are looking to raise your profile you might have a more open connection strategy than if you are looking for referrals from your existing network.

Be clear on whether you want to accept connection requests from people you have never met before and, if you do, how you will develop those connections into real contacts. Is there more value for you if you grow a wide network or use the site to develop stronger relationships with existing contacts. Are you comfortable mixing the two on the same platform?

I have a mix of networks, on some of which I restrict my connections to people I know, like and trust and on others where I am open to new connection. I like to offer people an option rather than turn them away. I also have groups on Facebook and LinkedIn (the two networks where I restrict connections) to offer people an alternative way of engaging with me.

The important thing is for you to have a clear strategy in your mind and communicate it effectively when you ask people to connect and when you receive connection requests from people you don’t know.

7. What content is appropriate to your goals?

As you may have gathered by now, simply joining a social network and posting whenever the mood takes you won’t necessarily bring you the best results. The focus you have developed by setting clear objectives, understanding how each network will deliver those objectives and working to a connection strategy should guide the content you post and the interactions you engage in.

What message are you sending to others with your online conversations and blogs and how congruent are they with the image you want to portray? If you are looking to demonstrate expertise, make sure you comment on other people’s relevant posts, add value to any discussion in that area and start new threads that engage people with a similar interest.

You should also be comfortable with how much of the ‘real you’ you share online. I believe your online personality should be a strong reflection of your natural personality. Remember, however, that online forums lack the subtleties of personal relationships and face to face conversations and you should always maintain a strong degree of professionalism.

8. Manage your presence to fit the network

With the surge of new social networking sites, the temptation can be strong to simply accept invitations, paste your standard profile into each one and then connect with all of the same people. If you have followed Step One and understood which social network meets which objectives, it should be easier to resist this temptation.

After all, why connect with the same people and provide them with the same content in different places? I can’t think of a more ineffective way of spending your time.

Tailor your profile, your activity and your connections to your objectives from each network. And don’t be tempted to join those to which you can’t commit.

9. Build relationships offline

However involved with social networking you become, don’t lose sight of the importance of meeting people in person. Online networks should supplement your existing relationships, not take their place. Ultimately you get to develop trust and rapport when you see the whites of people's eyes.

This means maintaining existing levels of personal interaction with existing contacts, while finding the time to meet in person those people you have a strong rapport with online. The growth of ‘Tweetups’, networking events for groups of people who have met on Twitter, illustrates the importance of this face to face contact.

Naturally, this isn’t always possible, particularly with overseas connections. But make the effort where you can.

10. Constantly revisit your objectives

You started out your social networking journey by setting objectives from each network you joined. Of course, those objectives are only valuable if you constantly revisit them, measure how successful you are and refresh them where necessary.

Ask yourself whether you are either meeting your goals or on course to do so. Is your activity driving the right returns? Are there potential benefits you have previously missed?

If you can maintain your focus and engage in the right way, there is no reason why social networks shouldn’t prove to be a tremendous resource for your business, give you a greater reach, access to new markets and ideas and help you grow far more quickly than you could have done without signing up and logging in.



Are you struggling to put an effective networking or referral strategy into place? Do you want to know more about how to ensure you get the maximum possible return from your networking?

Visit Andy's brand new website at for more resources and ideas about how Andy can help you.

Andy's new book, on how to generate an effective referral strategy, will be published in early 2011.

“In this book Andy Lopata demonstrates how so many businesses ignore potentially their most powerful resource – their networks. Andy’s in-depth, practical advice will show you how to both build and profit from the relationships in your network.”

Ivan Misner, NY Times Bestselling author and Founder of BNI and Referral Institute

Andy's Audio program, "Networking in Ninety Minutes," will give you the tools you need to make the most from your networking. Available in CD or mp3 format here.

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