One of the questions I’m asked about social networking is whether it really creates relationships the way that in-person networking creates relationships. It’s a good question to ask, and is often asked by people who want to determine if they really need to be on these different social networking sites, in order to do business. My answer is that social networking does allow you to create and sustain relationships in an online environment and that some of those relationships can even lead to business. However, just as a relationship in in-person networking needs mutual work from everyone to be successful, the same is true with relationships you cultivate on social networks.
I teach people how to automate their social networks as much as possible, because I think it’s important to know how to manage your networks effectively. But I also think it’s important to spend some time cultivating your online network. It can help you quite a bit in promoting your business and more importantly establishing relationships that can last a lifetime. That last part is more important because your business may change or go away, but the relationships you create and the networks you build can be there for you through all periods of your life, if you allow them to be.
Networking is a relationship building activity. What that means is that some kind of relationship needs to exist in order to make networking viable. People go to networking meetings on the premise that by getting to know each other, they can confidently refer business to each other. The idea is that people do business with the people they know. This principle also applies on online networks. We connect with people we know online, and we do so to either strengthen an existing relationship or to create a new one. So while we can automate our online networks, we also need to balance that automation with some focus on building relationships on those networks.
I don’t think that spending lots of time on online social networks is the answer, even as I don’t think spending all your time at in-person networking events is the answer. But I do think choosing to spend some time participating on the networking sites you find useful can really go a long way toward creating relationships that can help you build your business and also help you out in other situations. To discover what networks are really useful for you, spend time on those networks, even if it’s just devoting a few minutes to post a response or two in the forums. If you find that you get responses, spend some more time on the site. Keep building your presence, and thus your relationships.
As you get to know the people on those sites, don’t hesitate to tell them about what you do and what a good lead would be. They might be able to help you and help someone who needs your services. Remember that networking works because it’s not just people doing business with people they know, but people also doing business with people who are recommended to them by people they trust! Cultivating online relationships in your network can help you and help people that your network knows. Additionally, there may come a time when someone in your online network needs your help and you can help them.
I don’t spend a lot of time on the social networking sites. I spend perhaps two hours, maybe up to three on a given week, but I limit my time on them, because I have clients to take care of, articles to write, and other activities to do, to keep my business on track. But the small amount of time I do spend on those sites is focused on building stronger relationships or creating new ones. And in building those relationships, sometimes I’ve gotten some business, but throughout I’ve never lost sight of the main reason I’m on those sites. I want to help other people out. That’s why I do my business and that’s what motivates me to build a strong network, so that I can help other people and someday they can return the favor if I need help. And the truth is, you are only as strong as your network is, and that includes online networking too.
Taylor Ellwood is the Business, Writing, and Social Media coach. He focuses on teach businesses how to automate their business processes and gets great writers published. Visit his blog at http://www.imagineyourreality.wordpress.com. Visit his website at http://www.imagineyourreality.com