Traditional businesses in the offline world, or “bricks and mortar” companies, had the same needs as anyone doing business online today: getting the word out about their products and services. Way back when, pre-1992 and the Web, we used personal networking as a powerful channel to tell other people about our businesses and get referrals.
We joined the Rotary Club, hoping for the chance to be a guest speaker and have the opportunity to talk about our business. We joined the local Chamber of Commerce and charitable organizations; we served on committees, meeting people who could, it was hoped, refer clients to us, especially after they got to know us and knew of our integrity and business smarts.
Doing business today in an online world is much the same. Networking is still a powerful part of getting your message out to potential clients. The tools, however, have changed a great deal indeed.
If you were wondering what Facebook, Squidoo, Stumble Upon!, Twitter, Del.icio.us, and Digg have to do with growing your business, remember that successful business networking is founded upon people telling other people that you have something valuable to share. That’s exactly what these new social networking tools do.
When you come across a website or an online business that is excellent and worthy of recommending to other people, you might send an I Like It thumbs up to Stumble Upon to add it to their list, you might Digg it, Tweet about it, tag it, and bookmark it in Del.icio.us. As you accumulate Diggs and Thumbs Up from others, your own site begins to rank higher in searches, and other people who are browsing for interesting sites to Stumble Upon may just land on yours.
Recommendations and ratings from other people count for a great deal in an environment where there are billions of pages of information, including a lot of dreck. Democratization of publishing media has made everyone a publisher, everyone a videographer. So to make your worthy efforts stand out from the glut of words and sites on the web, recommendations are vital, just as they were when entrepreneurs networked in person at club meetings and industry events.
The same rules of etiquette apply online as well:
- Be generous in recommending other people and sites
- Apply thoughtful ratings to content you’ve viewed
- Write reviews that help customers decide whether to use that product or service
- Give before you get. Think of it as planting seeds for later harvest
- If you get the chance, ask: “What do I need to know about your business to be able to refer someone to you?”
Nobody likes an entrepreneur who is so busy talking about his or her business that they never learn about anyone else’s. No one will give you referrals if you come across as a boor, so don’t just Digg or rate your own sites. In the Connected Age, social networking means using these new tools to tag, comment upon, and recommend sites you have found to be of interest.
With the appropriate attitude of giving for mutual benefit, you will eventually conduct the online equivalent of exchanging business cards – exchanging links to your site and blogrolling links to those you want to recommend, or following people on Twitter who also follow you.
Networking is still an important part of business, and today’s social media tools make it easy.