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How to get the most out of social networks

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How can you use social networking to achieve more for your business, without either shelling out loads of money, or spending hours blogging away or tweeting away?

Here are my thoughts on how to get more out of social networking for your time, effort and money:

1. Be clear about what is your target market. This is the same whether you’re using online marketing tools or more traditional tools. It’s a great boost to the ego to have 100+ people in your LinkedIn contacts or over 1,000 followers on Twitter – but unless these are people who will buy from you, or know someone that will buy from you, then it’s not worth the effort to court them. For example, if you want to target local buyers to you, then you don’t particularly want to be building up a following on Twitter of middle-aged housewives in America.

2. Join on-line networking groups, and become an active member of the online forum, where potential buyers of your products or services hang out. Ideally, you need to be spending at least 80 per cent of your networking time (whether in person or on-line) with potential buyers.

3. Use your online presence to boost traffic to your website. Google ranks the content in blogs above content written in websites. So start a blog or use your tweets to direct potential clients/customers or referrers to your website. Or, if you’re a busy professional or business owner, get your PA to start tweeting for you. Writing a blog and being an active member of an online networking group will help increase your search engine optimisation.

4. Remember to project your personal image rather than your company logo. At the end of the day, people still buy from people. Make sure you have a photo of you on all your online profiles. Tools such as SocialOomph enable you to send out scheduled tweets – just make sure you intersperse some of your tweets with some postings with the personal, human touch.

5. Start following potential buyers on Twitter. Very simply, use a tool such as Twellow to identify potential buyers of your products and services, and then start following them. Make sure your Twitter postings include links to relevant articles and blogs for the people you start to follow so that you give yourself the greatest chance of them following you back.

6. Keep your online and offline brand and image consistent. It’s very easy to start diluting the impact of your brand by giving off different messages from all the communication channels you use to talk to your potential customers. There are some simple things to look out for: for example, make sure that you use the same colour scheme, logo and font wherever possible.

7. Do remember that it is 7-14 times more effective to win business from an existing customer rather than a new customer. Enough said really! So use something like LinkedIn as a memory jogger to talk to your existing customers regularly.

8. Ask satisfied clients and customers to write a testimonial for you. But here is the modern twist: ask them to write a testimonial for you on LinkedIn, and ask their permission for you to reproduce the testimonial on your website. This way you get another contact on LinkedIn – and a new list of potential customers.

9. If you don’t like the thought of writing articles or blogs, then record audio or video podcasts for posts to YouTube. It is a little known fact that YouTube gets two billion hits a day.

10. Keep it simple. You can spend hours writing different blogs and posting articles to different places. Write a blog and have it linked to your website. You may find that your website hoster will offer you a free blog (mine did!). SocialOomph can automatically post a tweet when your blog is updated.

11. Listen out for people looking for help. But don’t try to sell to them (well not to start with, anyway!). First of all help them – answer their question/query or direct them to your blog where they can find the answer to their query. The principle of reciprocity means that they are then more likely to do something for you in return… recommend your services… buy your services… return a favour that you ask of them…

Heather Townsend, Britain’s queen of networking, is the founder of The Efficiency Coach, a company that helps professionals achieve better business results for less effort. Follow her Joined Up Networking blog for more useful tips and tricks. She has just been commissioned to write the FT Guide to Business Networking.

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