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“The social web is an amazing opportunity to create small interactions that lead to larger engagements – meaningful relationships and business opportunity.” Mark Schaefer, Social Media Today

The lines between online and offline worlds have not blurred; for the most part, they have been erased. Consumers – increasingly across generations – move seamlessly between virtual and physical realities. To remain competitive, organizations must do the same. Cultivating a robust online business network is just the first step. The question for leaders is: how do you nurture, and leverage, these relationships offline?

Online Relationships, Offline Results

As Keith Ferrazzi writes in FastCompany, “All of our success in life is contingent on the relationships we have.” Online connections can lead to “real-world” opportunities, such as speaking engagements, strategic partnerships, work referrals, advisory board or panel appointments, and solidification of your reputation as an industry thought leader or expert.

Cultivating a strong online network is not drastically different from nurturing offline relationships. Ultimately, people are people, whether they communicate with you in person or through a screen. Some tips to help you manage your networks more effectively:

  1. Develop and articulate your brand strategy. What do you want to accomplish with your online presence? How do those objectives align with your overall business strategy? For example: do you want your name to be considered for speaking engagements? Carve out a niche for yourself as a thought leader? Connect with potential partners or customers? Clarifying your intent will help you create a plan to reach your goals.

  2. What do you have to offer? The online world is full of people who do what you do and know what you know. How are you different? What exceptional traits, insight, and experience do you bring to online engagements? In other words, what’s your unique selling proposition?

  3. What’s in it for them? But enough about you. As Ferrazzi reminds us, “nobody has time for you, and the rules online are no different from the rules offline.” To connect, you need to “serve them.” What do your connections need: information, advice, re-tweets, shares, guest blogging opportunities, or introductions? Can you deliver for them? And how does doing so benefit both them and you?

  4. Be interesting – and interested. Your USP is what will help make you interesting, trustworthy, and inspiring – but that’s half the battle. You must be interested in your connections. What are they passionate about? What are they worried about? Are they baseball fans or soccer fans? Even non-work topics can help solidify relationships and encourage long-term connections. People want to know they matter. Join in conversations, follow others, build rapport, and listen as much (or preferably more) than you talk.

  5. Share meaningful information/content. No one wants another sales pitch; they want information. They want to be educated and entertained. Develop your own authoritative content to share your knowledge, and re-tweet or link to other content that your network will find valuable.

  6. Thou shalt not spam. See above. Most consumers can smell a sales attempt a mile away - and they typically turn in the other direction. Use social media as an opportunity to disseminate your marketing materials and practice your pitches, and you’ll see your network crumble.

  7. Be selectively social. Not all connections are created equal. While it’s tempting to believe the one with the most likes or followers “wins,” the truth is that quality matters more than quantity. Reach out to influencers – those with their own thriving networks and sway within your area – for maximum impact.

  8. Keep the conversation going. Don’t settle for one-and-done tweets or posts. Engage people for the long-term: create an opt-in email or newsletter list; encourage readers to share your content – and make it easy for them to do so with on-site social buttons; invite folks to follow you on social media and follow those with whom you want to establish strong connections.

  9. Leverage your content as a networking tool. Read and comment on blogs and articles that you find interesting. Contact those thought leaders about mutual guest blogging opportunities to help you get your name out and to help introduce them to your community.

  10. Take it offline. Transition online engagements to in-person meetings. How? Attend tradeshows or industry conferences and introduce yourself to social contacts; meet for coffee when influential followers are in town, or arrange a time to visit them if you are traveling. If a connection is giving a talk, show your support and introduce him or her to colleagues. If you’re giving a talk, close the loop and refer back to your social presence and online content. It’s all one world, after all.

The currency of business has always been relationships. That is no different today. How we connect with people initially may change, but how we engage with them does not. Offer value; think about the needs of your connections; differentiate yourself as a solution-provider; and use your best attributes and skills to create strong, sustainable bonds. Easy? No, perhaps not. But relationships, while rarely easy, are worth the effort – online and off.


Larry Hart

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