08/21/2013 03:41 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2013

Social Strategy for Business - Don't Just Do Social Be Social

Thanks to technology and the emergence of social media, we now have the ability to connect with a large number of people no matter where they are in the world. The popularity of communicating virtually has grown significantly in recent years. Instant messaging, email, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media channels have made it especially convenient to talk with anyone at anytime and from anywhere around the world. There is no doubt this trend will continue. For businesses, social media is a great tool to help you get discovered by potential customers through regular engagement and sharing of information. Everyday conversations and interactions lead to the purchase of products and services.

I know the value of social media and have experienced its power to help create connections with other people. I have found that my years of being involved on different social media platforms has helped me grow personally and professionally. Sad to say though, there are more and more entrepreneurs relying solely on virtual communication and questioning the value of face to face interaction in building their brands and gaining new customers.

Virtual Communication Versus Face To Face Interaction

Due to the economic recession the world has experienced in recent years, some companies have reduced the time and money it takes to have face to face meetings and interactions. Instead these companies are conducting all their communication virtually. With the need to cut expenses, trimming travel budgets has become an easy target. As business owners, we all want to make sure we are using our resources efficiently. Problems arise when we do not set goals in the beginning. If your goal is to grow your business in today's economy, you'll need to find a balance between virtual and face to face communication. You will also need to assess your priorities and find solutions that will help both you and your clients communicate more effectively.

Advantages Of Meeting Face To Face

I attend and speak at 1-2 conferences every month. Whether it's a trade show, convention or casual meet up, face to face interactions provide a significant business benefit you can't get from just utilizing social media, video conferencing, emails or even phone calls. There are some who argue that video conferencing is almost the same as face-to-face. In some cases they may be right, but mixing in a generous dose of in-person engagement can make a huge difference.

Whenever I speak at conferences, one strategy I always emphasize to my audience is that you cannot just do social, you need to be social in order for your business to grow. Here are some important benefits I have experienced from having in-person meetings and interactions:

  • You build trust - In life and in business, trust is key. You can only build trust when your existing and potential clients get to know you on a more individual level. It will help you form stronger and more meaningful ties that, in turn, will create more profitable business relationships.
  • You build your thought leadership - With emails and social media, often times we are limited to the number of words we can use. What we need to do is to build rapport and authentic relationships with potential clients or investors. Seeing you and hearing your voice will allow people to connect with you on a deeper level. There is a certain sense of security both parties feel that will foster a willingness to work together. You will be able to communicate your business philosophy in your own words and they in turn can tell you about their needs on a more personal level.
  • You build your network - You can argue that you can build your network through social media, phone calls and emails, but in my experience, so much of the message and meaning gets lost. Building true human relationships can only really be advanced through in-person meetings. Establishing key partnerships and acquiring clients becomes much easier when you have the chance to meet the people involved in-person. You are also much more likely to have others recommend you when you have taken the time and effort to get to know them personally. Are you likely to recommend someone to your clients as a prospective supplier without really knowing him or her first? When you offer recommendations, your reputation is on the line too. I have been fortunate to make many good friends and even business partners because I took the time to get off my computer to meet those people in-person.

Use Technology And Social Media To Extend The Conversation

In business, you really need to know how to work smart. As a smart marketer, you need to be able to marry both types of communication in your growth strategy as I have. Here are some techniques that can help you leverage technology and social media to extend the conversation before, during and after an event:

Before the event:

  • Once you know the schedule of a conference or event you are attending or speaking at, make sure you announce your participation on your social media channels and reach out to people you want to meet with in person.
  • Join forums or groups on LinkedIn or Twitter and participate in discussions about the conference you will be attending. Be on the lookout for related hashtags the conference may be using to track conversations happening on social networks.
  • If you are speaking, produce a short video and embed it on your website. This will help build interest and encourage participants to attend your session. Make sure you include any related hashtags when promoting the video for more visibility.

During the event:

  • Share what is happening at the event on social media. Make sure you share relevant information that benefit your followers or fans. Don't be spammy.
  • If you made arrangements to meet up with other attendees, show up on time.
  • Don't just talk about your business, socialize! Schedule dinner or lunch with potential customers so you can build rapport. The more they get to know who you are, the more likely they will engage with you and even recommend you to their colleagues.
  • Be present and engage. Avoid constantly looking at your devices and tweeting or updating your social sites, emailing or engaging in other distracting activities. Remember, this is your opportunity to build long term relationships. Be present!

After the event:

  • Follow-up with people you met during the event through phone calls, emails and of course regular interaction on social media.
  • If you spoke at the event, prepare a blog post and share the content of your talk with your audience. This will allow you to extend your message to people who were not able to attend the conference or event in person. This will also encourage potential customers to seek you out to speak at future events.

Be Human

With the many technological advances in communication, it can be tempting to just rely on email or social media to interact with clients and prospective customers. Always look for opportunities to engage with people in real life. If you don't have the time or money to travel long distances, why not engage with prospective clients through local meetings and tweet-ups? Check events that are available to you locally. People want to do business and interact with other humans beings. Having said that, it is imperative you look for opportunities you can humanize your business or brand.

Final Thoughts

Both virtual communication and face-to-face interactions have specific benefits. In-person meetings facilitate engagement that helps us form stronger bonds that create long-lasting business relationships. While virtual communication, including social media, helps us keep the conversation fresh and alive, smart business owners find ways to combine both virtual and in-person interactions to build more meaningful and profitable relationships. Revisit your business objectives and strategies regularly. Check your metrics and maximize strategies that are working well. Do you factor in face-to-face meetings and interactions as part of your relationship building strategy? Share what works for you by leaving a comment below.