Picture yourself at a networking event. You’re having a pleasant conversation with a person you’ve just met. They have the same target market as you, but they offer a different service. You share a few business stories and talk about how you can help each other by referring business.
As you’re about to exchange business cards and setup a coffee meeting, someone else walks up, says “Hi” to both of you, and then moves on without saying anything else. You’ve just been hit by a drive by Hi-er.
Has this ever happened to you? Probably not at a networking event, but this happens every day on social media.
The social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+ have made it so easy to Like, Retweet, Repin, and +1 that we’ve lost our ability to truly engage with the person who did the sharing.
It’s no different than walking into a networking event, saying “hi” to everyone, and then leaving without having any real engagement.
So how do you fix this? How do you engage with people on social media in a meaningful enough way that it starts to build a real relationship that’s eventually taken offline (or at least has more depth online)?
Meaningful Social Media Engagement
The answer is really very simple and will sound like common sense once you think about it. Plus, it’s actually easier to accomplish online than it is at a networking event.
When you go to a networking event, you generally only have time to talk to a few people; maybe 5 to 10 at the most, depending on the event. By spending a few minutes with each one, you get to know them well enough to ascertain if you can help each other.
To achieve the same result on social media, apply the same principal. Instead of engaging briefly with a hundred people, engage regularly and meaningfully with 5 to 10 people who you don’t know (continue to engage regularly with those who do know you).
The reason why this is easier to accomplish online than at a networking event is because you can research people beforehand and engage only with those who have the potential to form a mutually beneficial relationship.
At a networking event, it’s hit-or-miss. You could spend all of your time talking to people who target different markets and aren’t even potential clients. Online, you can filter those people out and focus your energy on a much smaller group with a much higher impact.
Engage with the Right Attitude
In his article, 3 Common Delusions About Referral Sources, founder and chairman of BNI (Business Networking International) Ivan Misner writes, “The best [referral] sources in the long run are likely to be the people you refer business to.” In other words, your engagement needs to be more about how you can help them than about how they can help you.
One way to do this is by making introductions. On most social networks, you can tag people in your posts. To make an introduction, all you need to do is post something and tag each person.
You can also send direct messages to people. For example, this is a message I send to my some of my new connections on LinkedIn:
“Hey Mike! Happy to connect with you here on LinkedIn! You should also connect with a friend of mine and TedX speaker, Chuck Blakeman. He shares some really good info about entrepreneurship and running a business (https://www.linkedin.com/in/chuckblakeman).”
Chuck is not only a great guy and someone worth following, but he’s also a great referral source for my company, OnlineStir.
On Twitter, a more passive approach is to @mention someone and append #follow to the tweet. This tells your followers that you think they’re worth following.
Finding the Right People to Engage
Focus on people who would make good mutual referral sources. For example, referral sources shared across most businesses are reporters, editors, radio hosts, TV producers, etc. By engaging with these types of people, they become aware of the brand and are more likely to respond when you approach them with a story.
Business coaches might make good referral sources for some businesses. For example, a business coach that targets real estate agents will work well for a mortgage broker because the coach has the same target market, but they don’t compete with each other.
For a real estate agent, good referral sources are mortgage brokers, insurance agents, financial managers, stagers, plumbers, etc.
To find the right referral sources for your business, think about the other services used by your target market and seek those service providers out on social media channels. Searching keywords is a good start, but you can also look up trade associations and other groups or individuals and peruse their followers.
Engaging with Potential Clients
You can target potential clients, but that may not be the best use of your time unless the client is really large. If you spend weeks cultivating a potential client to buy a $500 package from you, it’ll cost you more in time than you’ll earn in revenue.
However, if you spend weeks cultivating a referral source who will send ten of those clients to you, that’s $5,000 in revenue and a much better ROI (return on investment).
If you want to sell a $50,000 solution to a big company, then figure out the right person to engage and get busy! You’ll want to find an individual decision maker within the company instead of engaging the company directly.
Company engagement will likely only be seen by a digital content manager or outsourced social media manager who won’t have any authority or add any value to your business.
Taking the Engagement Offline
In her article, The Rules of Engagement: 5 Ways to Connect on Social Media, social media expert Ann Tran provides some examples for how to foster meaningful online connections. Her most valuable tip? “Once you make a connection online, take it offline to build and nurture your relationships.”
The key to doing this successfully is to engage directly with people on a regular and consistent basis. If you tweet someone for the first time and ask them to have coffee, you won’t get a response.
However, if you nurture the relationship by tweeting, retweeting, mentioning, direct messaging, etc. over a period of time, you’re much more likely to take it offline.
Most social media experts teach you to engage the “drive by hi-er” way. This type of engagement will only take you so far online. To forge meaningful and lasting relationships on social media, you must engage on a deeper level by having real conversations with individuals, just like you do at networking events.
Please share your comments and social media engagement tips below. I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’ll respond to everyone.