Before the Internet and social media channels, gaining access to the people you need to connect with required a great deal of work, time, and often times, a degree of proximity. Today, with social media, you can be anywhere in the world and connect to the people who are critical to growing your business.
The need for networking hasn't changed, but the tools have -- and leveraging those tools to tap into that wealth of opportunity is easier than you might realize.
Tools vs. Strategy
With new social media platforms emerging at an alarming rate, it can be easy to discount the social media revolution as a fad. What you need is a strategic plan -- and a platform that can help you accomplish that plan.
How do you know which platform is right for you? What I've found is that it's best to identify your target audience and your business goals. Are you trying to increase sales? Are you looking for strategic partners or additional qualified staff? Are you targeting consumers or do you want to connect with other businesses?
Getting Started With Social Media
If I had to choose a favorite social media platform (or a great place to start networking), I would pick Twitter. I can say with certainty that Twitter is the number one tool I've used to grow my business. It's amazing how much relationship-building you can do in just 140 characters! Twitter is incredibly dynamic, allowing you to customize your experience to meet your networking goals.
Twitter in and of itself can be overwhelming. You've got to have a plan and use it strategically to accomplish that plan. If I could give you just a few critical tips they would be:
● Filter your Twitter stream by building lists so that you can closely follow the conversations of a small group of influencers. This allows you to interact and build closer relationships.
● Use Twitter as a search engine. Attempting to tune into the noise of all of Twitter is like trying to look at every webpage on the Internet without using Google, Yahoo, or Bing to filter the information. Using Twitter's search feature allows you to zone in on the information that is relevant to you.
● Respond to every retweet (RT) and person that reacts to one of your tweets. Keep the conversation going while being yourself. Your followers will appreciate a live, real human being's response -- it can be rare these days!
Of those currently using Twitter, 34 percent of marketers say they have generated leads using the social media platform, and 20 percent have closed deals.
Twitter Success Stories
No matter how much practical, theoretical information I read, I tend to learn more by reading about the successes of others who have used Twitter to network and take their careers or businesses to the next level. Here are some of my favorites:
● Melinda Emerson built a following of 157,000 people and got onto the NY Times bestseller list because of her social media networking. She started out tweeting just three times a day -- a personal anecdote, sharing a helpful article and answering one small business owners' question. I absolutely love that she was able to see success with such a simple tactic!
● Bryce Keane used Twitter to get to know his niche better, sharing information, and eventually landed his dream job in PR because of a single Twitter connection.
● Stacey Ferreira landed a million dollar investment from Richard Branson with a single tweet -- and she was just out of high school.
● Foiled Cupcakes went from zero to over 2,000 followers in less than six weeks, garnered national news coverage, and surpassed their initial revenue target numbers by over 600 percent!
How To Be A Twitter Success Story
I like to create a "wish list" of people I'd like to know better. These are people who I'd like to work with, members of the media I'd like to connect with or even other influencers in my niche! I use these lists to follow their tweets, share their updates and generally interact with them. Over time, I've been able to form valuable business contacts -- that all started with a Twitter interaction.
One of the greatest tips I can share has only a little to do with Twitter or social media. Once you've tweeted back and forth with someone who would be a great contact for your business, solidify the relationship by taking it "offline."
Meet in person if you can. If that won't work, schedule a Skype video chat or Hangout on Google+. I've personally seen the benefits of this in my own business. Recently, I met with a Twitter connection face-to-face and it resulted in my speaking at a major national conference. I really believe it was meeting in person that really cemented our relationship!
The Key to Success on Any Social Media Platform
As I mentioned earlier, regardless of which modern-day social media platforms you decide to use, these are just tools to engage in the age-old act of networking. The same rules apply as they do in face-to-face networking:
● Listen more than you talk
● Help others solve their problems
● Don't be a megaphone promoting your own products -- engage in discussions beyond promoting your own agenda
Try dipping your toe into social media, and you'll quickly be drawn in and swept away by the amazing connections you'll make. I've found that the networking I've done through Twitter and Facebook has not only changed my life from a business perspective, but personally as well. Has social media made a difference in your life? I'd love to hear about it!
Follow Kim Garst on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kimgarst