Are you networking or just adding contacts?
“Creating a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefit. Networking is based on the question “How can I help?” and not on “What can I get?” (defined by www.businessdictionary.com)
“A supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest”. (dictionary.reference.com)
“The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business”. (Merriam-Webster)
Three definitions for networking. In all of them you read: group of people, same interest, and share information. Not included in any definition: “must be virtual”.
When I read these definitions and thought about all the social media channels that we have been using, some questions popped in my mind: are we really using the these channels for the right purposes? What are we using social media for? The one question I cannot take out of my mind is: have we forgotten how to network in person? Have we forgotten that we can meet people, build productive relationships and do business in person?
I am a networker. Period. There is no doubt about it. I believe in relationships, in the exchange of experiences, in the power of a smile. I believe in helping and asking for help. I still believe in people.
Don’t take me wrong: not only I work in social media but I truly love it! I monitor, I manage branding, I write content. I read feedback, I answer questions, I leverage social promotions. I write BOP and train/coach social media associates. But I meet people. I do. I meet people for a casual coffee, a touch-base lunch, or a social bowling match.
I guess what I am trying to say, is that I use social media, both personally and professionally. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Linkedin, Vimeo and Youtube. Anything that can help me connect with people. And from there, I try to develop some productive professional long-lasting relationships.
I am obviously not saying that you should stop with your virtual networks or that you will be able to meet the 2,000 “contacts” that you have. What I am saying is that “connecting” with people by having them accept your “invites”, does not really make them part of your network. It makes them part of a list. My question is simple: how many “contacts” have you actually interacted with in the past week? How many interesting articles that your “contacts” shared with you have you really read, or took the time to comment on, adding something useful to the other “contacts” of your list? How many times have you reached out to someone in your “list” to ask for advice? Or to be your mentor?
I cannot tell you how many times I tried to reach out to “contacts” in my list (who accepted my invite, right?) and have never heard back – not even the shortest note. Or, how many times I was contacted by “someone” in my list asking for my resume, or for business insights or even for references on a colleague, and once I responded, either they have never gotten back to me, or they responded “I passed it to someone else”. Or, even when I said “let’s chat over coffee”, the interaction stopped.
Professional relationships are based on business interests, yes.
However, the owners, presidents, managers, employees of those businesses are PEOPLE.
And people have a special way to exchange information. How many times have you heard “it is not about WHAT you said, but about HOW you said it”?
How you work your network makes all the difference on the kind of return you will get: are you making time to feed your relationships with knowledge, experience, insights, support, advice or simply a warm “I am here for you”?
So, is this really networking? Are we “accepting invites” or inviting people to connect to build relationships, exchange experiences, solidifying partnerships, or are we just making them “a number in our list”?
So, it does not matter if you use the social media channels or your were able to develop a “live relationship” with another person/professional. Think about the right reason for networking and what networking is really about. Do not make your contacts just another number, make sure that you interact, that your networking have a purpose and make the best of it.
What kind of interaction do you have with your network?
3 Social Media “must-dos”
We are well aware of the importance of social media as a tool to build your company’s reputation, cultivate your customer’s faith on your ability of solving issues, show your customer how important they are to you, promote your products, services or events or simply engage your customer and increase your e-commerce sales. There are really numerous reasons why your company should be active in the social media channels.
There are several things that you must do to have effective engagement with your fans, and I will name 3 that I consider important:
First: it is very important that you have your branding very clear among all your social media contributors (and obviously among all your employees) so you can BE CONSISTENT. To me, that is rule number one. Your message must be consistent throughout all the channels. Your customers and fans, as well as your team, must hear and see the same message, no matter where they are getting it from. If you are not consistent you will confuse them and shake your credibility. Be clear and concise in your content. If you are promoting a sale via social media, for example, do not make it confusing or complicated. Promote only what you can deliver. Promising discounts, “free whatever” or rebates that you do not intend to honor is an absolute no-no. The same fans that will read your posting, will get back and post a negative comment if you do not comply with your promises.
Second: BE TIMELY to respond to your fans/customers. Whether they are asking questions, complimenting you, asking to have an issue solved or complaining, respond promptly. Social media is dynamic, real-time. There is a time stamp for everything and believe me, fans are very attentive to it. They are using social media either because they have tried to reach out to your customer service via other means and were not successful, or they believe you don’t give them the importance that they deserve. If not that, they know once they go public companies tend to be more politically correct or for any other reason that they might find fair and right. They want a response, they want action and they want it NOW. Make sure to monitor all your social media activity closely and be very prompt to respond.
Third: FOLLOW THROUGH. Be very cautious with politically correct responses, impersonal responses and “mass” responses. Be cautious to never compromise your customers publicly, even if they try to compromise your company (other fans will engage into a campaign against you). Make sure that your social media team is very well-tuned with your customer care and marketing teams, and especially with your managers. Make sure that once more, the response or comment posted by the company is legit, that you will be able to follow through. If it is a promo, make sure the details are clear and your marketing and customer care team can speak about it if contacted directly by the customer; if it is an individual issue, that after you post the “please reach out to us at 888-XXXXX” (what most of the companies do to avoid the ping-pong between customer and company), your team knows about the issue upfront and can actually give a first time solution to the customer (they love to go back numerous times and post how you were unwilling to solve the issue); if what they have is a question, that your media team reaches out to the specialist to answer the question consistently and accurately. No matter which case we are talking about, make sure you can follow through, you can deliver what you promised. Social media is not the solution to the customer questions, issues or complaints, only a channel to communicate with them: make sure that it is well-connected to the teams that will actually take action.
Social media has really changed the way that the customers search for information or solutions. And the companies that do not follow the trend will sure get stuck around the curve. However, make sure your team understands that your company’s social media pages are not their personal ones: have clear and concise standards. And make sure you can measure the results of your efforts!