By Barry Hurd
RISMEDIA, Dec. 28, 2007–Professional networking is getting more and more complex. In addition to business parties and family events, professionals are constantly being assaulted by a never-ending variety of technology changes. At its core, professional networking is a marketing initiative that many businesses understand. When you add the term “online” to professional networking, the knowledge required to have a good experience expands into dozens of new Web 2.0, social media, e-mail, match-making, and news sites across hundreds of different online sites.
No one has time for this onslaught of information overload. Leveraging your time and effort requires a comprehensive and well-developed strategy. This article breaks out some basic steps to help maximize your efforts.
Step 1 – Declare your goals
I use the word “declare” instead of define in this essential step for one main reason. You are going to start with intent to do something, but by the time you are done it will have changed. You must embrace a creative and adaptive viewpoint from the initial stages of your online professional networking strategy.
Questions you should ask:
Do you want to build better client relationships?
Do you want to create more leads?
Do you want to recruit talented professionals?
Do you want more visibility for you, your company, or both?
Do you want to involve yourself in online communities and conversation?
Do you want specific tools (software or personnel) in your effort?
Step 2 – Leveraging your assets and effort
Starting with the answers from step one, list out the available launching points and personnel you can work with in your professional networking efforts online. Just like real world networking, there are professionals and businesses that are already online and have prominent exposure.
Questions you should ask:
What non-competitive but related business industries deal with the audience you want?
What friends do you have that “get” being online and utilize it daily?
What professional contacts do you know that have exposure for their business?
What can you offer those contacts for what they can offer you?
What are the benefits to everyone involved?
Step 3 – Examine your available options for online professional networking.
There is a huge list of online social networks. Not all of them are going to cover your niche…but whatever your niche for professional business is–there is a network out there waiting for you to do business with them. Based on the questions you answered in step two, the following five social sites can be checked for your top professional associates and personal connections.
Sites you should examine:
Linkedin – if you are not on Linkedin professional yet, you should be. Many professionals search for colleagues here.
Classmates – how many people do you know from college or even high school? Do you know that the person you sat behind for four years is now a vice president at Microsoft?
Facebook – has the ability to create your own professional and community groups, or join existing ones. It is the largest social / professional site in terms of membership.
Myspace – while it may seem a little youthful, professionals are joining as they examine ways of communicating with other generations.
Meetup.com – relies on people meeting face to face in your local area. Groups range from 5 to 500 and many have monthly in-person meetings
Step 4 – Take action offline
In an online world, one of the best ways to jump-start your online professional networking is to reach out to the people you know in real life. Depending on your current professional network, a certain percentage of your contacts are already online and you just are not leveraging those relations in both realms. Siblings, in-laws, golf buddies, or old college friends are critical assets waiting to help your business with little effort.
Things you need to pick up:
Pick up your address book and ask your contacts if they participate in online professional networks.
Pick up the phone and ask your real world connections to help you, and how you can help them.
Pick up a cup of coffee with a professional contact and brainstorm ways to leverage your networks online.
Pick up a pen and detail how your professional networks overlap and how they can be combined.
Step 5 – Measure your results
This is professional online networking. That means it has business goals. Based on your original declaration and intent, you need to establish a starting point for where you are today and where you are three, six, or 12 months down the road. By keeping some basic numbers you can track your progress and make changes to improve your results.
Some ways you can measure results:
Return on Investment – how much time and effort did your networking take, and how did that amount relate to the amount of sales it created?
Return on Relationship – clients, prospects, professional associates, and family relations can be improved to create loyalty, retention, and referrals?
Return on Brand – understanding that your business is you reputation, does establishing your brand with your network establish other collateral returns?
Return on Workload – online networking is often more efficient than real world networking on significant level, how does it compare to your real world networking efforts?
Return on Education – your online professional network can provide critical education value and exposure, how does that compare to your other on-going educational efforts?
Conclusion: Tying it all together
Understanding your professional network and how it is evolving into different forms of online communication is a continuous process. Technology is not slowing down and individual professionals are going to use new online tools with different viewpoints and a variety of intentions. Reaching out to your current real world network and inviting them to join you on this road is just another reason to strengthen your current relationships and to educate everyone involved. When this task is taken with a positive and willing attitude, your professional network has everything to gain and nothing to lose… except for a few hours of good conversation over coffee as everyone learns new methods to grow a healthy business.
To learn more about online professional networking, visit 3net Search Engine Marketing Blog
About the author:
Barry Hurd is president of Social Media Systems, an online marketing and advertising consultant group working with search engine marketing and leveraging social media communities. He has over 15 years of entrepreneurial Internet and online marketing experience. As an author and prolific blogger, he has reached online audiences around the world. Since the mid-1990s, Barry has been involved in numerous efforts to bring forth technical innovation through online business models. Past projects have included NIKE, REI, TMP Worldwide, Monster.com, Verizon Superpages, Intuit, and RISMedia.
For more information, visit www.socialmediasystems.com
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