Time away from day-to-day business. It’s what every harried entrepreneur or busy executive fears. After all, how will the core work get done if you’re not working on the work that your clients demand and pays the bills? Plus, you can’t be everywhere since there’s only one you, right? That being said, there are many ways to make networking work for you no matter how packed your Outlook calendar is. Initiating and maintaining connections from the comfort of your computer or iPad, or from the mobile-friendly confines of your cell phone, can be time well spent.
Start by remembering that there are two ways to network: virtually and in person. Neither is better than the other and one should not be pursued at the expense of its counterpart. That’s because, particularly in today’s technology-driven world, the two methods work best in tandem.
Most of us are intimately familiar with face-to-face networking, be it at Chamber of Commerce mixers or at work functions, but most people don’t realize they can extend their reach and stay in touch between meet-ups through virtual networking. Here are a few of my favorite tips for networking virtually:
Go Where Your Audience Is
Ensuring that you have a robust social media and website presence is essential to staying well connected and to providing a measure of trust and security to the people you do business with currently, as well as future prospects and allies. Take a serious, critical look at your social media outlets. An important question to ponder is if you engage in the social media that your target audience is active on, or just the vehicles that you feel most comfortable with. If you are using social media, even in part, to develop business, it should be the former.
For instance, if your decision-making audience is composed of experienced women, you might want to put some time toward Facebook, including creating a plan to share what you’re up to with Facebook Live videos. A C-suite audience? Be sure to build-out your LinkedIn presence by regularly commenting, sharing and adding expert articles you’ve authored on published posts to the site. If most of your customer base is Millennials, perhaps it’s time to start Snapchatting or to amp up your Twitter game with Twitter Chats. Is yours a visual or product-based business? You may want to create Instagram stories or a regular Pinterest-posting strategy. Think gender, age, political views, economic status and, when in doubt, let data be your guide.
Then, keeping in mind that you want to avoid spreading yourself too thin, commit to regularly engaging in those social media outlets that are most meaningful to you and your business. Having five accounts, but only regularly posting, sharing, liking or commenting in two of them isn’t likely to give you significant results across each of the platforms. Start small by choosing two or three realms you can be most successful in and carve out time every single day or, at a minimum, three to five times a week, to actively post.
Give to Get
Remember, too, that good networking is more than just putting yourself out there. It’s also about engaging others and coming from a place of help. Follow other businesses on social media, repost their stories, congratulate them on their good news and take part in forums or special interest groups within each social media you’re active on. You’d be amazed how much your network will grow when you start engaging them first.
Be a Joiner
Another way to expand your reach is to follow the crowds. By that, I mean joining groups on social media networks. For instance, I belong to multiple women’s entrepreneurship groups, professional associations and regional forums. I often weigh in with advice, offer a referral or cheer others on who are working hard to build their businesses or figure things out. Be sure to tag colleagues or offer to take a photo of others when they are speaking at an event or attending an industry seminar together. Remember, there’s power in numbers.
How do we know time spent perusing social media is not just a big, huge waste of time and company funds? While it’s tough to directly track and measure success, I have my own anecdotes that tell me it’s worth my while: a serious business lead that came in from a LinkedIn search for someone with my geographic and industry-specific credentials (the company, whose owner I hadn’t met before I was contacted by him through social media, is still a client today); numerous reporters and freelancers writing stories who shared on Facebook or Twitter that each was looking for a specific source (from which my firm was able to assist, securing key placements for our clients); and friends I have made in the virtual realm that later became relationships that went far beyond the screen and into the face-to-face.
Want to do more? Consider blogging and inviting others to be guests on your company’s blog and to author articles. Then offer them exclusively to local, regional or industry-specific news outlets. Also, take the time to touch base with those you connect with through emails and notes.
Most of all, try to reframe your thoughts about social schmoozing. The next time you need a mental break from that project and find yourself minimizing your Word document and opening Facebook, or you see a colleague updating his or her LinkedIn page, remember that you or they are not slacking off. In fact, you might be one click away from growing your network in a big, meaningful way.
This article originally appeared in CommPRObiz.com.