Unlike younger generations, Baby Boomers clearly remember rotary phones, our first calculator (remember how big it was) and a time when computers were science fiction. Our first computer couldn’t do more than simple word processing and even simpler games. It probably was a Commadore 64 or a TRS-80.
If you weren’t born with a cell phone in one hand and an iPod in the other, learning to use online networking techniques can seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.
Like networking in real life, networking online is about building relationships. It just allows your network to include people in other cities, time zones and even continents.
The least technical option is to join an online forum that includes your target market. An online forum is a discussion group that may be on a website or may involve emails being sent to subscribers. You may remember a time when they were called bulletin boards. Today, they’re all on the Web. Do a search on Google for relevant groups or check out Yahoo Groups. Your industry association may have a forum.
Once you’ve found a forum that looks promising, become active with this group. Be knowledgeable and helpful, without looking for obvious gain. Whenever you see a discussion where you can add thoughtful insight, do so. If someone asks a question, answer it. Be consistent. It is much better to be very active on one or two sites than to sporadically post to many sites. You want to become visible – be known as an expert.
A forum is not the place for the hard sell. Never, ever, go in cold and post a sales letter or offer to the discussion group. This is the fastest way to get you hated, or even kicked out.
Instead, include a signature in your posts with a brief description of your business and your contact information. As you become known in the group, people will begin to think of you when they need your service. This is not a strategy for quick cash, but it will help you build long-term relationships which will lead to long-term customers.
Another way to network online is through “social media” websites. These websites provide members ways to interact and connect.
A very popular site – particularly in Canada – is Facebook. This free site allows you to create a home page with as much – or as little – personal information as you like. You can post photos, videos and links. The main feature is that you can connect to “friends”. Once you have become a Facebook friend with someone they can view your profile, all your friends, and they receive updates whenever you make changes to your page.
Facebook tends to be populated by young adults, but I’ve used it to reconnect with old friends and former classmates. Facebook is primarily a “social” site – a way to keep in touch with friends and family. It can also be a real time sucker, so beware.
However, there are some marketing opportunities for the right type of business. I know a wedding photographer who created a site for her company and posted a variety of photos. She invited all her clients to become Facebook friends of her site. Suddenly, all her clients’ friends could view her site as well. She has received a number of clients who discovered her work this way.
A more promising site for professionals is LinkedIn. The main purpose of the site is to allow registered users to maintain a list of contact details of people they know and trust in business. You create a professional profile – no photos here. Then you invite colleagues to link to you – they don’t have to be a member to receive an invitation. You can also ask for recommendations from people who have worked with you.
Once someone links to you, they are part of your network (a “Connection”). You can now view people in their network (their Connections) and they can see you. LinkedIn discourages you from approaching people you don’t actually know. If there is someone in a connection’s network you wish to meet, you can request an introduction.
LinkedIn can be used to find jobs, people and business opportunities. Employers can list jobs and search for potential candidates. Job seekers can review the profile of hiring managers and discover which of their existing contacts can introduce them.
LinkedIn is particularly good for information technology professionals and others in tech savvy fields.
This post barely scratches the surface of online marketing. If you want to learn more, a Google search of “social media marketing” will yield dozens of pages, including links to full day and multi-day seminars on the subject.
If this is all new to you, I suggest you search for one or two forums related to your industry and start there. If you want to experiment with social media sites, pick one and use your spare time to play around for a while. Don’t devote a lot of time to social media sites until you understand the culture of the site – don’t be a spammer – , have a feel for who populates the site and whether they are a good target market for you.
Tomorrow I’ll continue with on-line marketing by discussing how to effectively use an online newsletter – e-zine – as a marketing tool.
Andrea J. Stenberg