Once upon a time, it seemed as though the number of "followers" or "connections" a person had on social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn was akin to the number of votes they had for homecoming king or queen. It was the adult version of a high school popularity contest.
However, as these websites have now matured - and as entrepreneurs and business owners have figured out how and how not to use them - most everyone has come to realize that it's not about the number of connections you have, but the number of right connections.
Just like in the real world, you want to make sure you're making the most of your networking time by connecting with those people that have similar or complimentary interests or expertise and, therefore, create a mutually beneficial relationship - particularly when sites like Facebook limit your number of friends to only 5,000. In fact, many people who have large followings of the wrong people are taking the drastic step of deleting their connections and starting over from scratch.
Whether you're just getting started building your social media network or you're a seasoned pro who's thinking about doing a major re-haul, here are seven steps you can take to help you build the right connections.
1.) Start with the people you know. If you're still not using social media and are hesitant to get started, the best way to get your feet wet is by connecting with those you know personally: your friends, your family, your neighbors, and your co-workers. But don't stop there; your network is likely a lot bigger than you might think. Don't forget about your former co-workers, your connections through professional organizations to which you belong, your clients or customers, members of your mastermind communities and even vendors with whom you've done business.
2.) Add the new people you meet. Not so long ago (unless you were in sales), the majority of the business cards you collected at networking events, conferences, trade shows and other professional development opportunities probably went in the garbage can the next day. Today, however, there's no excuse for not taking a few minutes to extend the life of those connections by sending social media invites the very next day. Be sure to remind the person who you are by referencing something from your conversation or by providing a piece of follow-up information that you promised.
3.) Follow your followers' followers. Check out the connections and followers of your colleagues, peers, friends, etc. On Twitter you can easily see who your friends are following, as well as who is following them. Facebook automatically provides suggestions of people you might want to add because you have a lot of shared connections. In LinkedIn you may need to ask your connection to make an introduction. In any case, if you have things in common with your networkers, it stands to reason that a good portion of their followers is also worth following. Just be sure not to "spam" your connections' lists.
4.) Broaden your reach. Extend invitations to people in groups to which you belong in both the real and online worlds, such as professional organizations. On LinkedIn you can connect with the folks you "meet" through LinkedIn Groups. And on Facebook you can make connections when you're invited to attend an event or when you join someone's fan page.
5.) Follow the experts. We're constantly learning from experts in our respective industries. Why not reach out to these folks in the social media world? Maybe you've just read a great book. See what the author has to say on Twitter. Or maybe you've received a brochure for an upcoming conference that you'd love to attend but can't. Before you throw the brochure in the trash, search for the speakers' names on social networking sites and send them an invitation to connect. Let them know that you saw their session description for the conference and you're disappointed you're going to miss it, but would love to keep track of where else they might be speaking.
6.) Do some digging. Don't forget to take the time to search for people who share similar interests as you or who would be an ideal customer for your business. Granted, this is the most time consuming of all the methods. But it will give you the chance to unearth new sources, experts and connections that will add value to your business and who you might not otherwise have ever "met." Be on the lookout for bloggers, reporters and analysts who cover your company or industry.
7.) Invite others to follow you. To truly create an online "relationship" it needs to be a two-way street. One of the best ways to encourage others to follow you is by showing that you will provide value to them. In other words, be worthy of their time. Start by ensuring your online profiles are professional (i.e. no avatar photos) and accurately describe who you are, what you do, and what topics you're interested in. Provide content and commentary that matches that profile, is timely and doesn't spam. Promoting is fine so long as it's balanced with valuable content. Link to blog posts, videos and articles your followers would find interesting. Ask questions and provide insightful comments on other people's posts. Make it easy for others to follow you by providing "follow me" widgets on your website, blog posts, article archives and podcasts.
Remember: It's not about the number of connections you have on these sites-it's about the quality of those connections. Today, people are looking for authenticity. They want to meet real people with real things to say who will add value to their personal and professional lives.
Are you doing something interesting to find valuable contacts on social media sites? Leave us a comment and let us know what strategies are working for you!
by Angelique Rewers, ABC, APR
Richer. Smarter. Happier.